Surprising squid encounter in La Jolla delights photographer

By Steven Mihailovich

Jon Schwartz has been photographing marine life for the past four years and he’s good at it. Good enough for 15 magazines such as Field & Stream, Sport Fishing and Marlin to grace their covers with his photos. Schwartz said he travels far and wide to get his shots of exotic fish, such as marlin in pristine tropical waters, to destinations like Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean islands among others, where he has landed in pursuit of his prized subjects.

However, when Schwartz and fishing buddy Josh Pruitt launched their kayaks in the predawn hours of June 20, none of his many expeditions across the globe prepared him for what he found just one mile off the coast of La Jolla: a large shoal of squid swimming near the surface by his kayak.

“The squid encounter was super special,” Schwartz said of the experience. “It’s expensive to go to the places I go to get the pictures I get. With this, I didn’t have to get on a plane and bring my gear. It was completely unexpected and I was back at my house in half an hour.”

That day, the pair had kayaked for hours and Pruitt hooked a 40-pound white sea bass while Schwartz snapped photos of it. At about noon, they chanced upon the shoal of red squid just underneath them, which Schwartz estimates to have been about 20 feet by 30 feet, or the size of two SUVs.

Typically found at the bottom during the day, the squid were at the surface because big fish were hunting below, according to Schwartz. In addition, the squid were congregating around the kayaks for protection against the birds lunging from above for a feast.

Yet Schwartz said he hesitated before diving into the waters because squid are naturally skittish around humans. “Was there any point in getting in the water?” Schwartz said he asked himself. “Because if I get in, by the time I’m in, they’ll disappear.”

Schwartz had the skill, the equipment, the experience, and that day, the luck as well, because the seven- to eight-inch squid stayed put when he entered the water — probably because of their unusual situation, Schwartz said.

In fact, Schwartz’s luck was gushing. The waters were uncommonly clear and even the numerous settings on his camera for lighting, shutter speed and depth of field were perfect.

“If those aren’t right, you don’t get to change them,” Schwartz said. “That was the most bizarre thing. Everything worked right. If it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t be talking about it ... I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff in the water. The thing about this is it was the right place and the right time. I could go (to that spot) every day for five years and never have it happen.”

The 41-year-old Schwartz said his squid story would be used further to inspire his students to write about their own experiences. He’s been teaching fourth- and fifth-graders at Garrison Elementary School in Oceanside since 1997. To sharpen their writing skills, Schwartz said he creates blogs for them and requires them to make entries on a regular basis. (More at

“Writing isn’t taught a lot because teachers are under pressure to come up with great test scores,” Schwartz said. “Tests are multiple choice, so teaching writing is a luxury.”

Want to see more? Read Schwartz’s blog