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Soupfin Shark Encounter

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Soupfin Shark Encounter - San Clemente Island

Brad Mongeau has been free diving for more than six years and is an exceptional photographer and avid naturalist. His appreciation for the sea and its inhabitants can be seen in his photographs. The following description by the diver of his encounter with a school of Soupfin Sharks (Galeorhinus galeus) off the Southern California coast is not only interesting and informative, it is accompanied by one of several photographs taken during this experience. The photograph is one of only a few I am aware of that have been taken of this species, alive, in its natural environment.

"This past Thursday morning (26 July 2001), with calm, flat seas, I made a run to my favorite cove at San Clemente Island. I always swing in to the east end of the cove and motor out to where the water is about 35 feet deep to lay the anchor. While maneuvering the boat I saw a shark. It appeared to be a blue shark, which are not uncommon in this area.

I put on my wetsuit and slipped into the 65-degree water with a zip-lock bag of anchovies in my belt. The first thing I did was to swim over to the grotto where my 'eel buddy' lives. As usual, the first time I approached the area I didn't see him. I surfaced to take a breath and descended a second time, stopping long enough to make a 'gurgle sound' before surfacing. I gulped a breath of air and descended a third time. There he was... completely exposed, out of his cave. I hand feed him a few anchovies. He is very dainty, taking each small fish with the utmost care and deliberation, making sure that he didn't grab a finger. I hadn't fed him in more than a year, yet he seemed to remember me, and our feeding ritual. This is the fourth year that I have been visiting my 'eel buddy' and needless to say, our encounters become more gratifying with each passing visit. My visit today with him has been very rewarding so I spill out the remaining anchovies from the bag into his grotto and go off to explore the surrounding area.

Across the cove there appeared to be a lot of activity in the area surrounding the eel grass. As I moved closer I realized that a school of Soupfin Sharks had congregated in the shallows. I thought, 'Maybe this is a ritual where males and females form bonds.' I observed several groups of sharks moving in and out of the kelp. Sometimes they would come together, just temporarily, and form a group of 20 or more, but most often the groups were smaller, maybe 8 to 10 sharks.

I decided to get a better look so I took a deep breath and dove to the bottom. I decided to hide in the eel grass. It didn't take long before they began to appear at the edge of my visibility. Through the haze came two, then five, then seven, one after the other they appeared. A pattern began to emerge. As soon as I would dive down, the sharks would vanish. The sharks were small, maybe 60 to 80 pounds in weight. It is possible that my size might have threatened them. Therefore, when I reached bottom I would stay perfectly still and just wave my black glove, slowly. They seemed to be moving in a circuit that was about 50 yards in scope. They would converge on an area all at once, while I hovered above them unnoticed. As soon as I would dive down, they would quickly move off, but never too far. It seemed to be only a matter of a moment until they would move back into the area. During one such pass by the group I was there waiting, with my camera.

I noticed that one shark appeared to have its own entourage. A school of Spanish Jacks, about 2lbs each, was relentlessly following this one Soupfin. They would take turns rubbing up against its course skin, in what I thought was an effort to groom or remove parasites from their skin. The jacks were very patient; they strung themselves out in a line and followed the shark. I watched this routine for several minutes until a playful sea lion suddenly swooped in and tried to play 'graba__' with several of the sharks. Not wanting to take part in this game, the sharks quickly bolted away from the sea lion. I swear the sea lion was smiling when it swam past me after casing the sharks away.

I swam with them for about two hours before leaving to explore the backside of the island. I spent all day Friday on the backside. When I returned to the cove Saturday morning the Soupfins were still there, however, this time there was no visible sign of this incredible gathering on the surface, as there had been on Thursday. Their presence was magic, silent, and undetectable. It was an experience that I shall not soon forget. I wish you could have been there to see them.

I took some nice pictures, one of which I posted on my website: http://www.loveofsea.com/. In addition to the Soupfins I also saw several yellowtail, and barracuda, as well as a turtle. All at that most interesting place this past Saturday morning.... Soupfin Sharks are a thing of beauty!"

The material contained on this website is shared as a public service and to further the scientific goals of the Shark Research Committee.  All text and images on this website are the exclusive property of the Shark Research Committee.  Information on this website may be used for private study, but may not otherwise be published, duplicated, or modified in any way without the prior written permission of Ralph S. Collier.