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Swimming with Leopard Sharks

An unconventional way to enjoy the California coastline

Oh the stories you’ll tell when you say you’ve been swimming with sharks in San Diego.

As spring warms into summer, San Diego brings out the sharks! But don't be alarmed, they're harmless Leopard sharks congregating in the shallows for breeding season. These graceful creatures are typically 4-5 feet long, covered with the bold, yellow and black patterns from which they get their colorful name.

You may be lucky enough to spot their shadowy outlines from a surfboard or kayak, but the best way to get up close and personal with the sharks is to swim with them. And, the best place to start your adventure is from the Marine Room restaurant at the extreme south end of La Jolla Shores Beach.

Although it's usually relatively calm and safe at this location, there can be surf, especially in the winter. On a normal day, the sharks can be found just beyond the surf in 4-8 feet of water, even shallower on a calm day. You don't need serious dive equipment, just a mask or swim goggles will do the trick. Leopard shards are fairly timid but if you're patient and refrain from chasing after them, the sharks will pass close enough for a good look.

Leopard sharks are bottom feeders that eat shellfish and other small prey. Their mouths are narrow and their teeth small, so they present no danger to humans. Be on the lookout for stingrays however, which hide on the sandy bottom and pack a painful punch. Virtually all stingray injuries are the result of stepping on one, so do the "stingray shuffle" and drag your feet across the bottom, rather than lifting them. This will warn the rays of your approach and keep them from getting underfoot.

To increase your odds of finding the sharks and enhance your shark diving encounter, consider taking a guided tour with one of the excellent beach outfitters in La Jolla Shores.

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