By Sally Tang
Snorkeling is one of the most popular La Jolla traditions and there is no better way to learn more about our locals than joining aquarium naturalists on a Leopard Shark Snorkel! Snorkelers will be able to pick up snorkeling tips as they discover the abundant variety of animals that make their homes among the kelp, sandy bottom, and rocks.
How can you be ready for your first snorkeling adventure? What preparations should you make before you go snorkeling? Here are top 10 snorkeling tips and tricks you can’t miss.
1. Test your gear before coming to the shark snorkel
Participants have to bring their own gear and should try it out in the water and adjust the fit before coming to the shark snorkel. Our naturalists can always help you get the best fit on your gear for maximum shark exploration and fun.
2. Get ready to have fun!
Snorkeling with sharks is a brag-worthy weekend morning activity. This popular Southern California tradition is always a hit here in San Diego and it’s exciting to be able to see animals in their natural habitats.
3. Leave your valuables at home/in the car.
While out in the ocean, snorkelers are going to have to leave their items unattended on the beach so valuables like your phone and wallet should be left hidden in the car! It’s best to show up with yourself, your snorkel and fins, and a towel, that’s it.
4. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
Be sure to apply your sunscreen on the back and sides of your neck, the front and back of your ears, the backs of your arms, and the backs of your legs (and all the other places you need it!). These sensitive areas are very exposed during snorkeling and you want to avoid getting burned. A rash guard or a full wet suit can also protect you from harmful UV rays and keep you warm in cold water, however they are not required.
5. Expect more than sharks
Guests snorkel in La Jolla’s Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve, which has kelp forests, seagrass beds, rocky reefs, tidepools, and the sandy bottom where we look for Leopard Sharks. All that diversity means you can often see other creatures like guitar fish, rays, seals, sea lions, or even one of our local sea turtles! But maintain underwater etiquette by keeping a safe distance from the marine life not touching them.
6. Stingray Shuffle!
Always shuffle your feet even in the shallowest water. Stingrays are important members of our benthic (bottom) communities and will only sting if they feel threatened. By shuffling your feet, you alert the rays that you are coming, rather than stepping on them and potentially getting stung. Always shuffle or drag your feet as you walk through the water!
7. Look for orange or white tags
Scripps Oceanography researchers have been studying the Leopard Shark aggregation here in la Jolla for many years. The sharks that they have studied are tagged near their dorsal fin with small white or orange “pit tags” that have an identification number, which IDs the shark if it is caught again.
8. Channel your inner zen
Leopard Sharks, or any fish, don’t like being chased and can be easily startled by loud noises and splashing. Swim quietly through the water on the surface and look for the sharks. If you see them, don’t yell or kick like crazy. Instead, slowly and steadily make your way closer. If you see sharks, don’t lift your head out of the water and yell “I SEE A SHARK!” By the time you put your face back in the sharks will have likely swam away.
9. Be aware of your surroundings
Paddle boards, kayaks, other snorkelers, and the currents are all part of shark snorkeling. Every once and a while pop your head up and take a look around to orient yourself with the shore and to keep an eye out for novice paddlers.
10. Notice differences in shark coloration
Darker Leopard Sharks have spent more time in shallow water and subsequently get a sun tan. Lighter colored sharks have spent more time in deeper water and haven’t been as exposed to the sun’s rays.
Those are our tips and tricks for snorkeling with local Leopard Sharks. Join us on a Birch Aquarium naturalist-led Shark Snorkel on weekends through September. Register here.