Leopard Shark Snorkeling Tour

In about an hour, I’ll be heading up to La Jolla Cove for a leopard shark snorkeling tour which was rescheduled from Saturday due to poor visibility. These sharks are entirely harmless unless provoked, so I’m not even a little bit nervous about them. What I am nervous about, as one might surmise from two posts ago, are Other Sharks, most notably Great Whites.

Thankfully (and very deliberately,) I will be in a group – I don’t know how many will be in it, but I won’t be alone – which reassures me. Safety in numbers, and so on.

In addition to The Shark Issue, I also want to make sure I have basic snorkeling instruction before I go leaping into unknown waters alone: Reading things on the internet can only get one so far. I’m very keen on more snorkeling but have so much to learn. While La Jolla is the hotspot around here for this activity, it is also home to caves and currents and swell and surge and sometimes enormous surf.

There are many huge rocks on the shore into which the surf could gleefully pound a soft mammalian body. This guy below was diving off the rocks into the surf and didn’t get pummeled, but he sure did make me nervous. Look at the action of the water around him:

I’d like to learn where is safer and where to absolutely avoid (other than the caves – nofuckingway am I going into a damn cave in the ocean.  Nope! That’s reeeeeeally way up on my List of Things Which Terrify Me. I watched some videos yesterday of people snorkeling, kayaking, and just swimming in the caves up there, and it made me insanely uneasy – who knows what could be in there? What if a crazy tide/swell/surge comes up? What if I brush up against some horribly poisonous/sharp/spiky cave creature thing? <shudder> All the Nope. For now, at least, and probably for considerable time in the future.


And we’re back! Shark-wise, the tour was a little light (we saw only 5 or 6, and briefly,) but I learned a lot about La Jolla and about snorkeling in general. Benji, our tour guide, met me at Kellogg Park which is right next to the beach. He explained the other two members of the group were running a bit late, so we stood around and talked for awhile. I had brought all of my own gear, so he said, “You’ve obviously got a lot of experience, right?” Ha! I told him it was my first time other than 20 minutes in Mission Bay. and that I’d love all the advice he can give me.

He’s been diving here for about 13 years, and in all that time he has apparently never seen any dangerous sharks at all. Phew. He used to have a huge fear of Great Whites, too, but that has faded over time.

Our companions arrived about 20 minutes late, and Benji said he would extend our time in the water to compensate – very nice guy. They were a very sweet, absolutely beautiful Muslim couple, and the woman had not thought about how to keep her headscarf on in the water. We eventually got things sorted, though, and off into the water we went.

I couldn’t get my wetsuit zipped up for some reason, so I asked Benji to help just as a wave knocked me off-balance in my flippers and down I went. “Pride goeth before a fall, eh?” he chuckled.

As we were wading in, a medium-sized leopard shark cruised slowly by. Strangely, it’s much easier to see them from above the water than below – they appear to be really dark from above the waterline, and not nearly as dark below.

The other woman was having a terrible time with her fins, so Benji and I spent a lot of time on our own while we waited for the other two to catch up or do their own things. Benji was great at spotting wildlife, and asked “Did you see that huge sea bass?” “Did you see that big spiny lobster?” “Did you see that $THING?” and my answer was almost uniformly “…no…”

Turns out the mask I bought isn’t great – it fogs up very quickly and just doesn’t seem to have great optics. Benji switched with me, and from there on out it was a much better, clearer experience.

Visibility didn’t seem fantastic to me, but he said it was actually really good for the area. I think it was disappointing because when I think of snorkeling, I think of the videos I’ve seen of crystal-clear tropical waters, rather than this silty stuff.

As I practiced diving down, I realized my chubby body coupled with a neoprene suit is actually an excellent floatation device – I can’t stay down at all without continuously kicking, and those big leg muscles, of course, burn a lot of oxygen. When I get into better shape, that will be less of a problem for several reasons, but for now, I’ll probably pick up some weights to help keep me down. And a better damn mask. >.<

Right now, sitting still, I can hold my breath for just over a minute before I start getting uncomfortable – that’s not a very long time, and when I’m moving I’m sure it will be cut about in half. I’ve been watching some freediving YouTube videos and am starting to do some breath hold exercises.

My main goal with this tour was learning basic snorkel/ocean safety tidbits – the wildlife was just a nice extra bonus. I did manage to see Garibaldi fish, some kind of small, sandy-colored ray (probably a Round Ray, maybe a Thornback,) sea bass, opal eyes, and other things I didn’t recognize. Benji said there were a bunch of vermillion fish right by me he couldn’t believe I missed. I also didn’t see a small seal that was apparently cruising nearby. Cursed.  I will be going back and I will see these things!

There were enough people on the water to make me feel fairly safe from predators, and the passing thought of dangerous sharks only popped into my head a couple of times. Had I been alone, I’m certain it would have been more paralyzing.

This was the only shark I managed to capture on video. She was almost as long as I was, and was a bit skittish. Still, it was a neat experience, and I’ll definitely go back soon to try my luck again.

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