Straight out of a horror movie – a frenzy of sharks swarms the shores of San Diego? Not quite. But dozens of usually-harmless leopard sharks returned to La Jolla’s coast just in time for Halloween.
The brown and grey spotted fish were discovered in the waters of La Jolla Shores in late October.
It's not an unusual sight to see off the La Jolla coast in the fall and winter months, according to experts at the Birch Aquarium with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
“It seems a bit late in the season for these leopard sharks to be breeding, but it appears they are in full force currently,” said La Jolla resident and photographer Aaron Goulding.
On Oct. 23, Goulding recorded more than 100 leopard sharks just a few dozen feet away from the shore in stunning drone footage. Goulding said a man and child were swimming among them at La Jolla Shores.
The shallow waters provide the sharks with a calm environment packed with food – like clams, crabs, fish eggs, shrimp, squid, and worms.
They are not considered dangerous and will ignore swimmers and divers in the water unless provoked. The San Diego Zoo said there have been no reported fatal attacks on humans by leopard sharks.
Goulding has spent the past 12 years photographing sea life and surfing. He was testing out a new drone when he spotted the herd of leopard sharks.
Their markings appear to be similar to a leopard's spots, but the San Diego Zoo clarified the name is misleading.
“Although they are called leopard sharks, they don’t have spots like the animal they are named after,” the zoo said. The “spots” are actually dark saddles and splotches.
On Oct. 26, photographer Richard Wilson got and up close and personal with the harmless fish – which held a special importance to him.
Wilson moved to San Diego eight years ago, and in the first few years of him living here, he went surfing in La Jolla. But when he noticed little to no waves, he decided to wade out into the waters anyway – this is when he found himself surrounded by nearly 300 leopard sharks.
“Being with 200 to 300 of them at once was a surreal experience,” he told NBC 7.
Wilson stayed with the sharks for three hours – something he called an “incredible interaction with nature.”
Now, Wilson tries to see the leopard sharks as they pass through La Jolla every season.
“They really only show up for four or five days, but for some reason, they seem to be there forever,” Wilson said.
Wilson comes from a long line of scuba divers, and underwater photography is in his blood.
He said recently, La Jolla Shores’ water visibility was the “perfect storm” to see the sharks – but only if you’re very still.
“If you are moving around a lot, they’re not going to come to you,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s photographs show the leopard sharks swimming close to the ocean’s floor in all different directions.
Adult leopard sharks can measure up to 6 feet long.
In 2017, the San Diego Zoo welcomed its first sharks ever with a dozen leopard sharks in the Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks exhibit.