Leopards are invading the surf zone along Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Now, before you hide your pet deer and antelope, please understand that your salty sea captain is referring to leopards of the sea — leopard shark.
I love these critters. They glide gracefully across the seafloor in search of food. They are a study in poetry in motion. They are stealth because they are so well camouflaged. They are silent, giving few underwater vibrations thanks to their aquadynamics. They are sinuous and powerful. They are indeed beautiful to behold.
They are all of that, but they are also becoming a bit amorous at this time of year as their time for spawning approaches.
Surf fishers who come to my tackle shop, Hook, Line & Sinker at 4010 Calle Real in Santa Barbara, are talking about wading in the surf and watching the leopards move about and gather up. The real party has not yet begun, but the early partiers have arrived — probably mostly males.
This reminds me of a text exchange I enjoyed with a friend a couple of years back. She texted me, “I’m standing in the water at Butterfly Beach and there are leopard sharks all around me. They’re beautiful. Some are big and some are smaller. Do the mommas keep their young ones with them for a long time?” I replied, “Never trust a shark to be a good mom. The big ones are females, the smaller ones are males, springtime is almost here … you get the idea.” She replied simply, “Aaahhhhh!”
A charter customer of mine who has spent a great deal of time (many months) on the Channel Islands tells me of springtime days when we swam surrounded by perhaps a hundred leopard sharks in island lagoons. He said he did that a number of times, and those are among his most cherished memories that always give him a thrill to remember. I think the experience would be so profound that it would be impossible to tell the story in such a way as to convey the feelings.
Over the next couple of months, you have very good chances of going to see these beautiful predators as they gather up in our surf to spawn, sometimes in water so shallow that as you wade you may see them finning behind you.
Don’t worry, they are not trying to sneak up behind you. They eat small stuff, about the size of your toes — heh, heh! Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.