Shark sightings, close encounters on rise at popular Southern California dive spot

La Jolla Cove in San Diego is famous among tourists for its seals and sea lions, which lounge and cavort on the rocks and beach. But for scuba divers, a peculiar abundance of large sharks—and quite a few close encounters—is generating the greatest buzz. The first clip, titled “Bumped by a Shark,” was posted last week by Bethy Driscoll on her Bethy Scuba Facebook page. She wrote that she thought at first that it was a dive buddy, and being a veteran she managed to maintain her composure and keep her camera still.

“Whoa, 3ft visibility, and of course a sevengill sneaks up under my belly,” Driscoll wrote. “It’s so hard to just look and not touch.”

On filming the shark as it swam beneath and in front of her she commented: “I had to concentrate on keeping my heart rate down ! He got me a little too excited!”

On Wednesday, KPBS San Diego posted a story featuring Rod Watkins of Scuba San Diego. Video journalist Katie Euphrat plunged with Watkins into the sharks’ realm, just beyond La Jolla Cove, and the crew was fortunate to have enjoyed good visibility, and to have encountered several large sharks (video posted below).

Sevengills, which are found in all oceans but the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, generally inhabit offshore waters to depths of about 1,800 feet, or in bays and channels. They can measure to about 11 feet and weigh up to about 240 pounds.

Viewers can tell by the footage that sevengills are not shy around people, but they’re not regarded as a prominent threat to swimmers or divers. According to the International Shark Attack File, they’ve been implicated in only five unprovoked attacks on humans since the 16th century.

Watkins earlier this spring told a local news station that he had seen more sharks at La Jolla Cove this season than during “any year in my 45 years of diving here.”

He told KPBS that sevengill sightings used to be far more sporadic locally.

“The difference today is, we’re seeing so many more sevengill sharks. That’s kind of phenomenal,” Watkins said, adding that it’s not uncommon this spring to dive into a group of sevengills.

Why are there so many gathered off La Jolla, which attracts thousands of tourists each summer?

Biologist Chris Lowe, who runs the Shark Lab at Cal State University in Long Beach, said sevengills prefer cool temperate waters and are more common off Northern California. “Nevertheless, we now know they are highly migratory, making spring appearances around the Channel Islands and along [the Southern California coast],” Lowe said.

The obvious answer might be simply that there is an abundance of food off La Jolla. This includes seals and sea lions, but also rays, smaller sharks, and fish.

John Hyde, a NOAA Fisheries biologist, said it could be that the sevengill population has increased, or simply that technology and social media has made it so easy to share sightings with others.

“We’re not sure if there’s a change in effort. More people with cameras. More people looking for these sharks, that’s causing us to hear about them more often,” Hyde said. “Or whether there actually are more. I think it’s a combination of both.”

Whatever the case, divers are not complaining. The long, lumbering sharks have an allure that is bringing more divers to the area.

Said Michael Baer of a close encounter he enjoyed recently: “I looked over and all of a sudden this magnificent 9-foot sevengill swam right between us. It was just like that. Two feet away. I could have reached out and touched it.”

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