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  • Writer's pictureMick McMurray

Diving into the World of Sharks and Rays

Updated: May 29

This is a gallery of sharks and rays that we have encountered over our diving career and some of the trips where we have seen them.

We had a 22-foot Boston Whaler for years and we enjoyed going leaving Mission Bay and heading offshore to blue water. Close to shore in the kelp beds the underwater visibility would average 20-25 feet and on a good day 40-50 feet. But offshore you will get 100' plus regularly. You would have to go out 5 or 6 miles and sometimes 10 miles to get to blue water and it was awesome with no other boats around. We would cruise around looking for kelp paddies where there would be some marine life under the paddies. Once in a while we would throw some chum in the water and see what showed up. The blue sharks were curious and would swim around for a while before departing However when a shortfin mako shark would show up it would get really exciting. They are large mackerel sharks and the fastest swimming shark reaching speeds of 30 miles an hour. We never had a problem with them but when they would show up we would get out of the water and observe them from the boat.

Caribbean reef sharks are known for their grace and beauty, and diving with them is unforgettable. However, it's important to approach diving with Caribbean reef sharks with caution and respect for the animals.

Caribbean reef sharks are typically found in shallow, clear waters near coral reefs and seagrass beds. They are generally peaceful and not considered a threat to humans, but they should still be respected and given plenty of space while diving. It's important to follow established guidelines and best practices when diving with these animals, such as avoiding sudden movements, swimming slowly and smoothly, and not pursuing or touching the sharks.

We have dived with them on 2 occasions, both times in the Bahama Islands. The first time was with an organized shark feeding outing where the sharks are lured to the group of divers with chum. These have become controversial with opponents claiming they will increase shark attacks on humans and proponents saying they educate peppy about the sharks.

The 2nd time was while diving with Atlantic spotted dolphins in the Bahamas where we did a dive on a shallow reef as a break from the dolphins and a group of sharks showed up to check us out. I don't know if it was a coincidence or if they showed up to see if we were going to feed them but it was awesome diving with them with no chum in the water.

It's important to protect and preserve the habitats of Caribbean reef sharks because they are an endangered species. This can be done by implementing marine protected areas, reducing pollution, and reducing other human activities that harm the ocean environment.

Horn sharks and leopard sharks are 2 sharks that we have seen locally here in Southern California. We find the horn sharks usually laying on the sand flats in La Jolla or around rock formations in the kelp beds. Horn sharks are harmless unless harassed and are easily approached. They got their name from the 2 dorsal fins with the sharp spines at the front of the fin. They eat mainly hard-shelled mollusks and crustaceans that they crush in their powerful jaws.

The leopard sharks are occasionally seen swimming in the kelp beds but every summer in August and September they come into the shallow water at La Jolla Shores in San Diego to mate. They can be observed by slowly drifting over them while snorkeling but they are easily spooked by any sudden movement.

We have had the pleasure of seeing manta rays on a few occasions in Hawaii. Early morning in Maui we have seen them gliding next to and over the reefs. They were not shy but would gracefully glide by within 15 to 20 feet from us.

We have also seen them out at Molikini Crater on boat dives. They would swim into the protected side of the crater and just hover over coral heads and the small fish would come up and clean the bottom of the rays. We would stay back so we wouldn't disrupt what was going on and just watch as the little fish went to work.

We have also done a night dive with mantas on the Big Island. We went with Big Island Divers and it was an exciting experience. The dive boat left at dusk with 10 divers and motored out to the dive site. At dark, we entered the water and the dive masters placed a milk crate with a bunch of dive lights pointing straight up on the bottom and after a little while there was a lot of plankton attracted to the light. After 15 minutes the mantas showed up. I don't know how many there were but more than 2. They would glide through eating the plankton and then another one would take a turn. There were other dive boats in the area doing the same thing and it was fun watching the divers try to figure out which boat was theirs.

At La Jolla Cove in San Diego, we have seen many sharks. We have seen the horn sharks and leopard sharks mentioned above but another highlight is the tope sharks that show up in the summer. They glide gracefully through the kelp usually in mid-column. They are shy and frighten easily, especially with a loud exhale of bubbles. We just get to neutral buoyancy in the water and hold on to a piece of kelp and watch them glide by.

On a couple of occasions, we have seen a 7-gill shark at the cove. They are large sharks with the male getting up to 5' long and the female up to 7'. They mainly stay close to the bottom and will occasionally swim up toward the surface.

Off the tip of Baja at Gorda Banks. a deep water reef, pelagic animals sometimes congregate. We have seen hammerhead sharks and whale sharks there. The whale shark isn't a shark at all but the largest fish in the ocean. It is a slow-moving filter feeder. They will glide over and around the bank feeding on plankton.

There are other skates and rays that we have seen in Baja, mostly around Cabo San Lucas. We have done a lot of diving there over the years and there is a ray there that I haven't seen anywhere else even though they can be found at other locations. The Bullseye electric ray is light brown in color with leopard spots and a large bullseye in the middle of its back. They lay or burrow into the sand and feed on small fish and crustaceans and can deliver a jolt of electricity of touched or disturbed.

We also got to witness guitarfish mating. I wasn't sure what I was seeing at first. The female was laying on her back and the males were swarming over her pinning her to the bottom. It looked pretty rough for the female.


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