La Jolla

Fin-credible Sight: Leopard Sharks Return to La Jolla Waters in Droves

This species of shark is described as harmless to humans and have a certain fondness for La Jolla's waters

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If you've ever wanted to swim with sharks, now is the time.

Leopard sharks are back in huge numbers off the coast of La Jolla and the majority of them are during a special time in their lives.

"They show up every summer when the water is really warm, and they like this particular spot because it’s especially calm," said marine biologist Andrew Nosal. "All of these leopard sharks are pregnant females, and they are here because they are incubating their developing embryos."

Nosal is a professor with the University of San Diego's Environmental and Ocean Sciences Department. He has been studying leopard sharks since 2007.

"They are completely harmless, as long as you’re not a crab or a fish, and in fact, most of the species off our shore are completely harmless to humans," he said.

Leopard sharks are found in other areas along the West Coast, but Nosal said they seem to have a particular affinity for La Jolla.

It’s that time of the year when leopard sharks return to La Jolla for a few weeks in droves to incubate their embryos. The sight? Well, it's fin-credible. NBC 7's Audra Stafford reports.
Leopard sharks are fairly friendly and harmless to humans. Here, they swim near one in La Jolla.
Leopard sharks are fairly friendly and harmless to humans. Here, they swim near one in La Jolla.

"The sharks that we see this summer – it’s the same sharks, the same individuals that are coming back year after year. So this place is really special to them," he said. "That’s called philopatry, which means home-loving. They come back every single year."

Nosal said leopard shark season typically lasts from late-June to early-December, but the peak months when we see the most sharks are August and September.

Everyday California and other companies offer kayak, paddle board and snorkeling tours that will get you up close to the animals. You can also just wade right into the water.

A leopard shark minds its business and swims in La Jolla

"When the sharks are shallow, that’s all you have to do and they are swimming around your legs," Nosal said.

Whichever method you choose, Nosal said it is important to look, but don't touch.

"We need to remember that we are guests here and we need to respect the animals that live here," he said.

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