On Feb. 25 surprised visitors and residents of Los Angeles swarmed to watch leopard sharks swimming around in the famous Venice canals. While leopard sharks are known to hang around the Southern California coast it is unusual to see so many sharks in these neighborhood canals.
Last week a woman was walking along Grand Canal first spotted strange two-foot long shadows in the canal water. She took photos of them and then contacted the authorities. On Feb. 25 experts confirmed that a number of baby leopard sharks entered the system during a high tide and are swimming freely through canal system. A Santa Monica Aquarium expert suspects the harmless “sharks entered Ballona Lagoon through tidal gates and passed through the culvert under Washington Blvd. to reach the canals.”
Leopard sharks typically grow up to five-feet and swarms of them gather every fall and winter in the La Jolla/San Diego area. They are identifiable by their striking pattern of black saddle-like markings and large spots. Peter Wallerstein with Marine Animal Rescue says leopard sharks cruise the coastal shallow waters every year. Normally the large schools of leopard sharks keep to bays and estuaries, swimming over sandy or muddy flats or rock-strewn areas near kelp beds and reefs. Leopards forage mudflats for clams, spoon worms, crabs, shrimp, bony fish and fish eggs. This particular group of juvenile sharks must have followed the high tide into the canal in search of food.
The Venice canal system was developed and built by an eccentric developer, Abbot Kinney, who wanted to recreate the feel of Venice, Italy. The original man-made canals were dredged and built in 1905. In the 60s it attracted artists and hippies. In fact the canal area was the birthplace of The Doors. Before their fame and fortune as one of the top rock bands of their time, The Doors played for the Venice locals. Jim Morrison actually lived in one of the cottages along the canals. Over the years the canals fell into disrepaired and were drained and renovated in 1992.
The new system contains six V-shaped canals and the adjacent ten foot-wide public right-of-ways surrounding each. As in Italy attractive pedestrian and vehicular bridges span the canals which attract various types of both residential and migrating birds, ducks, cranes, and even herons. Both walking tours and gondolier rides have become popular with both local and tourists.
Images of the baby sharks taken by a local photo documentarian, Sheena Duggal, have become popular on Twitter.
“I saw what looked like a couple of pairs of leopard sharks just kind of swimming along on the bottom,” Duggal said. Officials at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium later confirmed the sharks were the same ones spotted in other reports in the area. Usually leopards are not a threat to humans who float alongside them in kayaks and paddleboards every year in the San Diego area.
It was unclear what effect the storm forecast to hit the Southland this week will have on the sharks and their current location. Some of the waterways and drain systems through Los Angeles feed into the Ballona Lagoon and wetlands which can become overwhelmed with flood waters during heavy rains. If necessary there is a system of tidegates and culverts that can be used to help them return to the Pacific Ocean.