La Jolla Shores shark diver shares insights at Birch Aquarium lecture

La Jolla Shores-based SD Expeditions business owner Nick LeBeouf
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Hot on the heels of his fourth Shark Week appearance, La Jolla Shores-based SD Expeditions business owner Nick LeBeouf had some fish tales to share with a crowd at Birch Aquarium on July 30.

LeBeouf discussed the marine life that can be found up to 60 miles off the San Diego coast — blue sharks, mako sharks, ocean sunfish, blue whales and pacific white-sided dolphins.

Focusing on his experience with “blue water” trips (at least 15 miles off shore), he peppered his presentation with videos and anecdotes.

About 100 people file in to the Birch Aquarium lobby for the shark lecture July 30. Ashley Mackin-Solomon

“Shark trips are something I enjoy sharing with people,” he began. “We run a cage-less shark encounter with blue and mako sharks.

Blue sharks are the world’s most widely traveled, a fisherman in Japan reported a tag from San Diego, to give you an idea of how far these sharks can migrate. Mako sharks are the world’s fastest, with a birthing ground in Southern California, so San Diego tends to get smaller, juvenile makos, but we also get the big moms here to give birth.”

“There are less than five spots in the world where you can dive and see blue sharks: San Diego, South Africa, the Azores (off the coast of Portugal), Rhode Island and one or two more. These sharks are beautiful. They have a purple iridescent hue on their back and they’re fun,” he said.

But in addition to sharks, LeBeouf said there are mola mola (ocean sunfish) which can make for “an even better encounter,” that San Diego divers can see.

“Some people travel to the Far East and dive down 100 feet to see these. They have no idea you can see them off the surface of San Diego!” he said.

“A lot of people like to go out on a boat and look for this thing that swims unlike other fish (with a fin on its dorsal and ventral sides, top and bottom, rather than its sides). They are the world’s largest bony fish.”

He recalled times in which mola mola have been documented turning on their sides near the surface and letting birds clean parasites off their bodies, and when they breach, they look like “pepperoni pizza” and have a nice big splash.

Mola Mola Wikimedia Commons

Offering an insider tip, LeBeouf said: “It’s important to not chase mola mola, or any other wildlife, because that’s going to lead to a short encounter. You want to be as small as possible to not overpower it. If you have the chance, don’t wear a wetsuit.

“With a wetsuit, you look like a sea lion, and mola mola might not be as welcoming as if you have a beige body.”

Addressing the various dolphin species found off the coast, LeBeouf said he’s seen the short beaked common dolphin, near shore bottlenose dolphin, offshore bottlenose dolphin, pacific white-sided dolphin and others.

“The common dolphin I also like to call the disappearing dolphin, because you will see a pod of over a thousand following a boat, because they like to play in the boat’s wake, and then you jump in and never see one. It’s unreal. I don’t know how they do it; it’s a magic act,” he said.

Similarly, blue whales are able to maneuver in mysterious ways.

“Blue whales are one of the largest animals on Earth and one of the most elusive I’ve ever been around, considering they are so big. It takes a lot of logistics to get in the water with a blue whale,” he said, adding: “They feed on krill, and if you see it, that’s a once in a lifetime experience.

“It’s a special thing to witness and the whale will not care that you are there. They cannot swallow you whole, but their tongue weighs nine tons, so that could crush you.”

Other whale species migrate closer than their blue cousins.

“We have gray whales closer to shore, as well as minke and humpback whales,” he said.

But just because these creatures can be found off the coast, doesn’t mean they will. LeBeouf concluded: “You don’t get it all every time; sometimes you get nothing. You have to get in the water and accept what the ocean will present to you.

“The best way to experience these encounters and learn about these animals is simple: Jump in.”