As the summer comes to an end and the fall quarter brings forth an influx of incoming students, the ocean-bordering UC Santa Barbara campus becomes alive again with freshmen excitement and anxiety. But the heat of summer still lingers, meaning both recurring and new students are more likely to be sporting tanks and shorts, surfing or sun-tanning out by Campus Point—a popular campus hot spot known for its manic waves and thriving ecosystem of animals and kelp. One species in particular, the friendly, uniquely-spotted leopard sharks, has been spotted recently off of the bluffs of Manzanita Village.
These leopard sharks are very common in California, specifically traveling between Oregon and the Gulf of Mexico. They are frequently sighted since they tend to gravitate toward shallow water, swimming about two feet or so above the sandy ocean floor. Coming from the Houndshark family, the round-snouted leopard sharks that could be seen from our campus are likely so close to shore for two main reasons: they are searching for food, or they are a predominantly female school hoping to get closer to the warm water because they are pregnant.
The Animal Diversity Web notes that “Warm coastal waters increase the speed of digestion and accelerate gestation in leopard sharks,” and that pregnant leopard sharks spend half a year in warm waters. So new beginnings are not just for the students on our campus but perhaps for the aquatic life nearby as well.
The sharks have become the talk of the town, at least amongst the dorm resident assistants (RAs) who, while preparing for the arrival of thousands of students, were informed about the arrival of such animals before anyone had even made it to campus. According to some in the eastern residence halls, during a training that involved an introduction to the Office of the Ombuds lead staff, one member in particular had mentioned the leopard sharks as a fun fact, which led to various groups of RAs going to Campus Point beach in search of them. “We sadly did not see any the day that our group went, but the search is not over yet! I am really excited to see them,” one RA from San Rafael Hall told The Bottom Line.
Hopefully, as the flourish of the first few weeks of classes dies down and the temperature stays warm, students will frequent the beach more and might manage to see a leopard shark swimming close to them before the winter cools the water and ushers them away.