Wednesday, April 25 , 2018, 7:50 pm | Fair 56º


Captain’s Log: Leopard the Most Beautiful Shark in the Sea

Don't let their looks fool you; they're stealth, silent — and deadly. Handle with caution.

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Capt. Tiffany Vague displays a beautiful leopard shark, caught by Steve and Vahe Kechichian, before releasing it. (Capt. David Bacon / Noozhawk photo)

I cast my vote for the most beautiful shark in the sea to the leopard shark. This critter has eye-appealing shapes on its back and sides which, besides looking pretty, do a credible job of camouflage, allowing the shark to blend in to a sandy bottom as sunlight ripples in mottled patterns across the sea floor. They have that classic shark shape and gorgeous eyes.

Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)
Life in the food chain (in spite of what movies Nemo and Bambi teach children) is about deadly ambush, and the advantage goes to predators such as leopard shark that can hide in plain sight. Their bio-engineering is awe-inspiring and makes me coin the phrase “deadly grace and mesmerizing beauty.” I have a profound respect for these critters.

Leopard sharks, moving gracefully across the sea floor in search of forage and a good ambush spot, are a study in poetry in motion. They are stealth. They are silent. They are sinuous. They are beautiful. They are deadly. While not a big-toothed shark, I strongly recommend keeping hands, arms, etc., well away from the business end of a leopard. Their teeth are like a band saw, and once they bite down, they twist and thrash their heads instinctively to bite through whatever is in their mouth. They primarily eat small fish, squid and other fairly soft-bodied forage.

We have been enjoying many sightings and catches of leopard sharks in local waters in the past few months. Some of the common spots have been Goleta Beach, off of Santa Claus Lane, and at Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands.

Most we’ve seen or caught aboard the WaveWalker have been 30 inches to 48 inches. To be a legal catch, a leopard shark must be longer than 36 inches. Yes, they are very tasty sharks and highly prized catches. Many are caught by fisherfolk drift-fishing with live baits over sand bottom while they primarily pursue halibut.

Even when targeting halibut, few anglers are disappointed when a keeper leopard comes aboard. But they should be careful, because a 4-foot leopard shark is surprisingly powerful. I’ve seen them damage gear and hurt people. Handle with caution.

Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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