I didn’t mention it before, but on our last trip, Sam didn’t get to see any of the leopard sharks. On the trip before that (September) I saw some very late in the day after Sam had already gotten out of the water for good.
As such, Sam suggested we try a Saturday drive because she wanted to see the sharks as much as I did. Also, we could test the COVID traffic to see if it lightened the load. Spoiler alert: it didn’t (at least on the way down).
We didn’t end up leaving the house until 10, and by that time everyone and their mom’s 2nd cousin’s best friend’s ex-boyfriend’s kids decided to jump on the 5 and head south to enjoy the good weather (sunny and mid-70s). It took us about three hours to get to La Jolla, which would be our average time in the Before Times and is the reason why we’d typically spend the night there (so much of the beach time was cannibalized by the drive).
However, this ain’t no Before Times. These is the Afters (more like “Durings,” but who’s still able to count at this point?), and in the Afters we ain’t stayin the night nowhere else no how no way! (And no sushi either, which is quite a bit more painful than the no hotelling rule).
So we didn’t set foot on the sand until south of 1pm, and we were obviously the last to get there. If there are COVID beach limits in La Jolla nobody was following, it was as crowded as any labor day weekend in the Before Times. Still, we were able to set up our little tent a good 8-10 feet from the other people to attempt to stay safe.
Of course, most of that safety came from breathing in the air a half-inch above the waves instead of six feet behind sunbathers.
Almost immediately upon entering the water just north of the Marine Room we both went in different directions chasing sharks.
Just like the previous weekend, the leopard shark shiver swirled up and down a narrow strip of shallow shoreline, giving Sam ample opportunity to spend time with them before getting seasick.
The marine mammal in the family, I elected to spend even more time.
My reward for that, besides shivering as the water gets cooler the farther we are from the autumnal equinox, was to see an animal I’d never seen at La Jolla or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
But first I warmed myself up by hunting sharks in the reef (?) area. The tide was out so the seagrass literally touched the surface of the water in many spots. Sharks would pass by inches from you, but they’d come and go so quickly you couldn’t get your (well, my) camera up in time. It’s a bewildering, otherworldly (fun and scary) exercise swimming through the dusty fog of churning sand and current-guided undulations of the long grass.
But eventually, it gets old (and confusing, it’s dangerous to get too close to the cliffs if a big wave comes) so I went to calmer waters and dove down to look underneath the tiny crevices in the reef. A few years ago I found a sea hare down there, but this time I figured out where the nocturnal spiny California lobsters go during the day.
After that got old as well (pods of lobsters in the dark are creepy looking) I swam north again towards the main event (leopard shark shivers).
And I found them, in greater numbers than before. So many that I had to google what the word is (that’s why I’ve been saying “shivers” – that’s the actual term) for many sharks swimming together.
Often there was a solitary shovelnose guitarfish that would accompany these sharks as they – I’m assuming – cruised the sand for things to eat.
Once, as I was recording this behavior I bumped into a swimmer (as this was close to shore, this was a common problem). I cursed through my snorkel and regained by bearings facing the shore underwater.
Except I didn’t see the shore. My eyes met eyes as big as my own couched in a man-sized blanket of black scales. A fish bigger than any I’d ever seen in la Jolla. A fish equally as large as any sea lion over at the cove, but taller if not wider.
“Shark shivers” wouldn’t be the only thing I’d have to look up at home.
I tried to get closer to this thing and at first, it just kept merrily shuffling along close to the seafloor, but when it realized I was singularly interested in it – it disappeared.
Not able to top that, I soon left the water and we made the journey home. Our trip home last Friday had taken nearly three hours with many accidents. Sam speculated that this may be easier on a Saturday because folks would be staying overnight (unlike us) wherever they’d gone to earlier. She was right, it only took two hours this time.
Back at home, after cleaning off the equipment, I went through the photos on the camera – eager to get a look at the big fish again.
But there was nothing. Apparently, I accidentally turned the camera off or pointed it at the sand or…something. My last hope was for the video, but even that got screwed up thanks to GoPro’s cruddy button layout.
As you can see in the video – I accidentally recorded the whole encounter with the big fish in “time-lapse” mode, which meant it took a bunch of pictures instead of video. But at least I got something. And you can see that something at the end of the video above. Definitely the last time I’ll see a giant black sea bass until next year and probably the only one I’ll ever see. (they’re easier to find if you dive off the coast, but I never dive)