San Diego Sharks

Clearing the waters about San Diego shark diving and freediving.

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COMMON SPECIES

Horn Sharks, Leopard Sharks, Sevengill Sharks

RARE SPECIES

Swell Sharks, Tope Sharks, Smooth-Hound Sharks

VERY RARE SPECIES

Great White Sharks, Blue Sharks, Mako Sharks, Thresher Sharks

WHEN TO ENCOUNTER

Year-round, season-specific

HOW TO ENCOUNTER

Scuba diving, snorkeling, wildlife watching expeditions

GREAT WHITE CAGE DIVING

No cage diving in San Diego, but multi-day trips to Guadalupe Islands in Mexico leaving from San Diego

San Diego Shark Species

Our waters are full of sharks, but not in the way most people think. The majority of San Diego shark diving is done with small, bottom dwelling, and much less intimidating local species than your average Shark Week stereotype.

8 SAN DIEGO SHARK SPECIES

    Horn Sharks

    Scientific Name: Heterodontus francisci

    Family: Heterodontidae

    Size: 3.3 ft (1 m)

    These teeny sharks are a year-round sighting in San Diego. They inhabit most of our local kelp forests and rocky reefs, usually hiding in crevices or under ledges during the day.⁠ Horn sharks prefer the comforts of the sea bottom, so scuba diving is the best way to get a close glimpse at them.

    horn-shark

    Photo by Charles Hobson

    Leopard Sharks

    Scientific Name: Triakis semifasciata

    Family: Triakidae

    Size: 3.9 ft - 4.9 ft (1.2 - 1.5 m)

    Every year, thousands of Leopard Sharks come to the shallow waters of La Jolla Shores for mating season. They are usually around from June through October, but August and September are the best months to spot them. Grab your snorkel gear and swim from the shore towards La Jolla Sea Caves – it won’t be long until your first encounter!

    leopard-shark

    Photo by Charles Hobson

    Sevengill Sharks

    Scientific Name: Notorynchus cepedianus

    Family: Hexanchidae

    Size: 4.9 ft - 7.2 ft (1.5 - 2.2 m)

    These prehistoric sharks spend most of their time in borderline abyssal depths: around 1,500-2,000ft.⁠ During the spring months, however, they come up to the kelp beds of La Jolla and Point Loma to mate. Scuba diving encounters are common between late March and May, when boat charters target highly populated sevengill grounds.

    sevengill-shark

    Photo by Charles Hobson

    Swell Sharks

    Scientific Name: Cephaloscyllium ventriosum

    Family: Scyliorhinidae

    Size: 35 - 43 ft (90 - 110 cm)

    These curious sharks not only have the ability to ‘glow in the dark’, but they are also able to swallow water to double their size when threatened. Despite inhabiting San Diego’s kelp forests year-round, swell sharks are skittish and trickier to spot while scuba or freediving.

    swell-shark

    Photo by Monterrey Bay Aquarium

    Tope Sharks

    Scientific Name: Notorynchus cepedianus

    Family: Hexanchidae

    Size: 4.9 ft - 7.2 ft (1.5 - 2.2 m)

    This migrating species travels all over the West Coast and Baja Mexico. In the summer, pregnant females make a stop at the kelp beds of La Jolla and Point Loma, allegedly to incubate their embryos and minimize their gestation period. ⁠Encounters are infrequent so consider yourself lucky if you spot one of these while scuba or freediving.

    tope-shark

    Photo by NBC 7 San Diego

    Smooth-Hound Sharks

    Scientific Name: Mustelus californicus

    Family: Triakidae

    Size: 51 in (1.3 m)

    These small sharks are abundant in the central California sport fishery and often fished off San Diego’s piers. Local encounters can happen year-round, but they are rare. Divers can spot them on the seafloor and snorkelers can sometimes find them schooling with leopard sharks.

    smooth-hound-shark

    Friends of La Jolla Shores

    Great White Sharks

    Scientific Name: Carcharodon carcharias

    Family: Lamnidae

    Size: 11 ft - 20 ft (3.4 - 6.1 m)

    Every year, San Diego hosts a small number of great white sharks. These are usually juveniles enjoying the warm SoCal waters during the summer months. Relative to other shark species, great white shark sightings are sparse, but the news channels are quick to acknowledge them. To willingly see these big fishes, your best bet is to join a Great White Shark cage diving trip.

    great-white-shark

    Photo by Gerald Schömbs

    Pelagic Sharks

    These sharks dwell in deeper waters, miles away from shore. They are constantly on the move, which explains the inconsistency of sighthings. The most common Pelagic Shark encounters in San Diego are with Blue Sharks, Mako Sharks, and Thresher Sharks. Other species, such as Hammerhead Sharks, are harder to find. The best way to get in the water with these elusive species is to join a guided offshore expedition.

    pelagic-shark

    Photo by Elaine Brewer

    How to see San Diego sharks

    SCUBA DIVING

    For certified scuba divers, boat charters are a convenient way to fulfill shark diving endeavors. Our most common encounters are with horn sharks and sevengill sharks. Tope sharks and swell sharks are a treat. Shore diving is the physically-demanding alternative to a boat charter.

    Waterhorse Charters (us!) and Marissa Charters are the only two scuba charter operations in San Diego.

    SNORKELING

    The most accessible way to see sharks in San Diego is to snorkel at La Jolla Shores with Leopard Sharks during the summer months. This unforgettable experience is suitable for children and can be highly affordable, if you decide to do it on your own.

    Other snorkeling options involve joining a snorkeling tour by shore or a snorkeling boat charter.

    WILDLIFE WATCHING CRUISES

    There is no Great White Shark cage diving in San Diego, simply because there aren’t enough sharks. San Diego companies organize multi day trips to the Mexican Guadalupe Islands – most leaving from Ensenada, Mexico.

    Our personal recommendation goes to Horizon Charters, the only company with charters departing from San Diego.

    GREAT WHITE SHARK CAGE DIVING

    To try your chance with the rarer pelagic sharks, you need a full-day at sea and a great deal of patience. There are no San Diego shark expedition operations using ‘chum’ (bloody fish remains) to attract sharks and letting guests snorkel amongst them.

    Wildlife watching cruises could reward you with a rare shark sighting, but these are far fetched occasions, not commonplace.

    Ready to look for small sharks?

    san-diego-scuba-diving

    Our two dive boats make weekly trips to dive sites inhabited by shark species, with sevengill shark season (spring) being our most shark-diving-focused one. We'll take you to them.

    Photo by Ed Olu

    🧜‍♀️ New year, new skills: start 2023 expanding your underwater horizons!
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