Seeing spots? It’s leopard shark season in La Jolla

man floats in shallow water with the leopard sharks in La Jolla

Summer in La Jolla means longer, lighter days, lush temperatures and leopard sharks.

Our leopard sharks – those harmless houndsharks that adore The Shores as much as we do – have returned in full force, and we’re drawn to observe them as much as we can. Read on for our toothy guide to all things leopard in La Jolla.

Why La Jolla Shores?

Leopard shark numbers off La Jolla peak in August and September, according to Andrew Nosal, associate professor of biology at Point Loma Nazarene University and an expert on leopard sharks in La Jolla, though the sharks are common here from late June through early December.

These sharks are mostly pregnant females incubating their embryos in the calm, warm waters of The Shores.

The leopard sharks, pregnant for 10 to 11 months, will give birth in April or May, then mate and become pregnant again.

“When they start gathering in La Jolla during the summer, they are in the early stages of pregnancy. This is likely when the warm water has the greatest effect on speeding up [the embryos’] growth and development,” Nosal said.

Looking for leopards?

Spotting the sharks can often be as simple as standing in the waves along The Shores, though the best place to observe them is just outside the surf beyond The Marine Room restaurant and off the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, Nosal said.

Mornings with calmer, clear water are ideal.

Those wading, snorkeling or kayaking to marvel at the silvery creatures need to be mindful this is a Marine Protected Area: wildlife is protected.

Touching or harassing leopard sharks (or any other marine critter) in any way is prohibited.

The leopard sharks are skittish, Nosal said. “The best way to see them up close is to remain still once you have found some; they will be more likely to swim close.”

And yes, leopard sharks pose no threat to humans, feeding only on small fish, crabs, octopus and squid. Though they may bite in defense if grabbed, their mouths and teeth are harmlessly small.

Leaving La Jolla?

Once waters cool and the leopard sharks prepare to give birth, they swim on from La Jolla, though many return for a time in the winter.

“It is still somewhat of a mystery where they go when they leave,” Nosal said. “We have tracked some sharks moving north along the coast to the Los Angeles area in the winter. Some may move offshore to Santa Catalina Island. Others likely stay in the San Diego area, but perhaps move to slightly deeper water where they are less likely to be seen.”

Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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