Leopard sharks spotted off La Jolla coast
If you find yourself swimming in the surf at La Jolla Shores, you will also find yourself swimming with the sharks. But, no need to worry, these are relative benign sharks, at least to humans. In fact the leopard sharks currently found in large numbers off our coast are much more afraid of us than we need to be of them.
The species, called Triakis semifasciata in the nomenclature, is a type of houndshark. They grow and mature quite slowly. They can be found all along the west coast of North America, from Washington state to Mexico’s Mazatlán. The sea creatures never exceed 5 feet in length, and are known by their dark marking and imposing spots on their backs, thus the leopard in their name.
They are clustered right now near the La Jolla Submarine Canyon. The sharks are quite timid creatures, and enjoy the shallow water. They usually stay in the low tides and mud flat regions, where they dig out clams, worms, crabs, shrimp, small fish, fish eggs and squid. The sharks themselves are harvested commercially as food for humans and as aquarium pets. While the numbers of leopard sharks were sharply reduced in the ’80’s, by the turn of the century new laws had allowed the population to grow back to previous high levels, and the sharks are no longer considered threatened.
Many pregnant leopard sharks use the La Jolla Shores waters for spawning their young. Sharks new with babies now will give birth in the spring of 2015. And they do actually give birth, as leopard sharks hatch from their eggs while still inside the mother’s uterus. They are therefore described as being aplacental viviparous, and the newly birthed sharks feed on yolk while still inside the mother. Each spring each female can have more than 35 young, following a year-long pregnancy.