Gray Whale Migration

Every year, Gray whales make a 10,000 mile long migration from bays off the coast of Baja California up into the high north within the Arctic Circle. In the summer months once the ice in the Arctic has melted, the whales reach rich feeding grounds in which they gorge themselves on small invertebrates called amphipods. Gray whales are baleen whales, meaning they have plates made of carotene that hangs from their upper jaw.  Gray whales use their baleen in a unique way compared to most whales.   Unlike other baleen whales which primarily feed on krill, gray whales feed on amphipods which live in the thick Arctic mud.   To feed on them, the whales dive down to the ocean floor and scoop up the mud into their mouths.  The mud is then filtered, leaving the amphipods caught in their baleen.   They then use their huge tongues to scrape the amphipods off the sides of their mouths and into their stomachs.   Grey whales will feed continuously all summer long until the ice begins to freeze again; then they will make there long journey south to their breeding grounds in Baja.

Gray whales are local visitors to San Diego that migrate past our coast from early December to late in April. Usually the whales are seen traveling by themselves or in small groups of two or three. In December they are on their southern migration down to bays in Mexico such as San Ignacio where they will give birth and mate. During the months they spend traveling past San Diego, we can observe many different behaviors from them.  Although gray whales are not as active at the surface as other large whales, every now and then they can exhibit some pretty exciting behaviors. They can be seen breaching, where the whale launches itself more than two thirds of the way out the water and then lands in a large splash.  They can also be seen fluking, where an observer can see an exposed tail fluke when a whale goes down on a deep dive after it takes a breath. The arch of its back at the surface causes its fluke to come up and out of the water.

Written by: Bryant Grady

This Year’s El Niño

Have you heard people talk about the El Niño this year?

El Niño is a natural cycle in the Pacific Ocean which generally occurs every 2-7 years and has the ability to drastically change our climate. An El Niño is caused when the normal trade winds weaken or even cease over the Pacific. This halts the flow of many ocean currents, such as the Humboldt Current, which are dependent on these trade winds for momentum. Fueled by the trade winds,The Humboldt Current is a cold water current that runs northward along the west coast of South America. As it nears the equator, it turns west into the Pacific and gradually warms. During El Niño, the Humboldt Current loses this fuel and slows down dramatically. The normally cold water in the current beings to warm, creating changes in our climate worldwide.

This change in the ocean’s climate in the South Pacific extends to different parts of the planet. El Niño affects San Diego in several different ways, mainly on our local wildlife because water temperature increases. Cold water has a high nutrient content; it can sustain more life - just think about how rich and diverse kelp forests are!

This change in water temperature happens can cause a collapse in the local ecosystem in tempererate seas. With the warmer waters that El Niño brings, we see a lack of growth in our kelp forests which are home to thousands of marine organisms. This wreaks havoc on our native wildlife causing much of it to move farther north to cooler waters which are more abundant in food. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said “A major consequence of an El Niño is the loss of commercially important species where they traditionally occur. A notable example is the movement of the market squid to cooler waters to the north, away from established fisheries in California” (Impacts).

Every summer, pregnant leopard sharks come to La Jolla shores and primarily feed off of California Market Squid. Market Squid have a key place in the food chain in La Jolla, as well as the entire west coast. Because of the warm water temperatures we see during El Niño, much of the local marine life may move north until the cold water returns. When the water off of California warms in result of El Niño, we see predatory game fish flush north along the west coast that are typically seen in more tropical areas. Fish like Dorado, Yellowfin Tuna, Bluefin Tuna, and even Wahoo can be seen far up the coast of Southern California. El Niño can often bring a whole parade of animals that live farther south, northward, in an attempt to feed off of the still very nutrient rich waters.

Last summer, the normal blue and mako sharks that we typically see during or pelagic shark diving trips disappeared. We couldn’t believe that we were chumming up smooth hammerheads and schools of mola and getting in the water with them!
Hammerhead shark spotted san diego

Mola mola school

As of April 9, 2015 NOAA has issued statements saying El Niño has arrived. However, because this is not a strong El Niño and it is coming at the end of California’s rainy season, we will not see the torrential rain that generally accompanies an El Niño. What we will see is the underwater effects of El Niño and unfortunately it does not look like the water in San Diego will be cooling off any time soon.

“We Need Your Help!” NOAA: Elusive El Niño Arrives. 04 May 2015.

“Impacts of El Niño on Fish Distribution from NOAA Fisheries.” NOAA Fisheries: El Niño Related Research. 04 May 2015.

“El Niño Information.” El Niño Information. 04 May 2015.

Written by Bryant Grady

The Long-Anticpated Return of the Blue Sharks

The last time we saw a blue shark on a shark trip was June of 2014. The abnormally warm water temperatures last summer that persisted through this winter made our shark trips unpredictable - we were chumming up smooth hammerheads instead of the normal blue and mako sharks. The water temperature was sitting at a toasty 73F, and there were some unusual ocean sightings by divers and fishermen such as a manta ray at San Clemente and a whale shark Catalina Island!

Even through winter the water temperatures were warmer than normal, and we mostly only saw small makos on our shark trips when we would normally see mostly blue sharks. It was not until mid March that we had our first two beautiful and large blue sharks. You can imagine our how ecstatic we were as we geared up to get in the water with our favorite sharks for the first time in almost a year.

Blue shark split shot

Blue shark diving san diego
We were so excited to see the blues again, and it was almost as if the blue sharks missed us too, because that day we had a 5 foot and a 7 foot blue shark hang around the boat all day. The next trip we ran in April 9th was another success with 2 blue sharks lazily circling our boat all afternoon, allowing every diver as much time in the water with them as they’d like. We had some divers on the boat who were nervous and slightly fearful of the sharks, but after they got in the water with them and had a first hand experience of what a shark is really like, they came out of the water beaming. These are always our favorite trips where we can see actually see the change in each person’s mentality towards sharks once they have had an intimate encounter. They later told us that it was such a memorable and incredible experience that they couldn’t stop talking about it for days.
Cageless blue shark diving gopro
The sharks were so curious and playful on both trips that the guests and our photographer, Kyle McBurnie, had endless opportunities for shark photos.
Shark diving selfie

Freediving with blue sharks in the open ocean
Here are some photos our guest @b_nelson_mandela from Instagram got on his trip:
@B_nelson_mandela from instagram

@b_nelson_mandela from Instagram
The blue shark that hung around our buckets for so long even allowed us to launch the drone to get some footage of it circling our boat:

Since we are not sure how long the blue sharks will stick around for (they disappeared in June of last year), we have opened up lots of trips for the next coming weeks which are going very fast. View our calendar for upcoming trip dates.

Sevengill Shark Expedition Review

Daniele is from our very first Sevengill Shark Expedition of 2015 that ran on March 15th. He has come on a blue and mako shark trip in the past, and he traveled all the way from Italy to dive with us again.

“As shark fanatic, I joined many trips around the world focused on shark diving in the last 20 years. There are trips that flop, there are trips that go really well and then there are those expeditions that you never forget because they exceed all expectations. Sunday, March 15, the sevengill shark trip with SD expeditions falls unquestionably into the third category because it delivered consistently amazing encounters with the elusive sevengill sharks.

The trip started with a really unusual encounter with a big sea lion eating a leopard shark on the surface….I had the possibility to swim very close to this strange scenario and to take some great images. After that, we started a long day of diving at La Jolla bay, with 3 dives. We had a progression of one sevengill during the first dive, two in the second and three different animals in the third. In all honesty, during the third dive the sevengills seemed to always be present, came really close to us and photo opportunities were excellent.

After the great shark activity, while we were heading home, Kyle and Nick, the two co-leaders of the trip, gave their best effort to show me the beautiful gray whales, with full success again.

Additionally, the dive boat was perfect and the dive gear that I rent in excellent conditions. In conclusion, I would like to thank you Nick and Kyle for the extreme courtesy and professionalism and SDexpeditions is definitively recommended for shark fanatic as me and for all lovers of big animals”.

- Daniele Andreini from Milan, Italy

The Start of the 2015 Sevengill Shark Season

The sevengill sharks are back! We have been hearing numerous reports of freedivers spotting them in shallow water in the past week, and we finally saw our first shark. We had our first ever sevengill shark diving expedition on March 15th where we did a 3 tank guided dive from the boat. We had about 4-5 different sharks with 10 close encounters, so it was a successful and exciting day for everybody.

Sevengill shark diving 2015

sevengill shark la jolla cove 2015

On another dive we spotted a sea lion interacting with a sevengill shark:

And on another unique encounter we saw a sevengill shark being tailed by two 40 pound yellowtail, a rare fish to see in the Cove:

Our upcoming sevengill shark diving trips can be found on our calendar.