Leopard Sharks, Bat Rays and Me

Leopard Sharks,
Bat Rays and Me

Dec 29, 2011


If you’re (fool) hardy enough to get in the water to snorkel or scuba in the late fall/early winter, you can be rewarded with amazingly clear water and “Lake Laguna” conditions. Typically the best water visibility of the year occurs at this time. The conditions the last month or so have been phenomenal, with many days having 20-30 ft visibility. If you can handle the 56-59 degree water and have been out there, you know what I mean. If you can’t imagine doing such a crazy thing, I will share my experience from one epic day of snorkeling earlier this month.



I swam from Main Beach to Monument Point through the existing Heisler Park State Marine Reserve and the visibility was a phenomenal 30 Feet+. I must have seen ~50 leopard sharks and 100-200 bat rays in the kelp bed. I swear I’m not exaggerating. I still can’t quite believe what I saw. I felt like I was floating over an

Underwater Serengeti.


The leopard sharks were everywhere and the bat rays were in the kelp bed off Bird Rock/Rockpile Beach. But the best leopard shark jamboree was just south of Monument Point. I lost track after 12- there were easily 2 dozen, 3-6 footers just doing their shark swimming around thing. It was probably only 15 ft deep there so I had a great view and so clear they were casting shadows on the sandy bottom. Neither leopard sharks or bat rays are dangerous- they usually stay near the bottom where their prey lives. Their diets includes mollusks, crustaceans and fish.


I also saw a horn shark resting on the bottom and found a few abalone and the kelp itself was just beautiful.





Check out these short videos of the leopard sharks, a bat ray, and diving down to check out a horn shark and an abalone:

Swimming with Sharks in the Laguna Bluebelt

Bat Ray gliding through the Kelp Forest

Horn Shark resting on the bottom






25 years of snorkeling here and its one of my most memorable days.
To see more photos from that day, visit

Laguna Bluebelt’s Facebook page

LIKE our page to stay updated on the Laguna Bluebelt and to enjoy more beautiful photos from above and below the water.


The existing Heisler Park Marine Reserve is one of my favorite places to snorkel. The difference between the habitat in this no-take reserve versus some of the other nearby coves is dramatic.  The rocks are covered with kelp and coralline algae. There are urchins but you have to look for them. The fish are more abundant and larger. I routinely see fish species within the reserve that I rarely see outside the reserve. So even on this minuscule scale, Marine Reserves work- I have seen it with my own eyes right here in Laguna Beach. We know from the science that this very small reserve is far from the size needed to effectively allow fish to reproduce and replenish to the levels needed to allow spillover to surrounding areas for consumptive users.


One can only imagine this healthy marine habitat multiplied along the entire Laguna coastline as the expanded Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve takes effect on Jan. 1st, 2012. With the combined effects of stopping extraction, abalone and kelp restoration, urchin mitigation and improved water quality it will be exciting to witness the restoration first hand over the coming years.


There are many examples of successful marine reserves:

Channel Islands MPAs: Report on the First 5 Years of Monitoring: 2003-2008

and the recently released study from scientists at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography on the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park in Baja:

New study shows that Cabo Pulmo is the “most robust marine preserve in the world”


Scientists will be monitoring the new MPAs and we’ll be looking forward to their findings in the coming years. In the meantime I will be swimming out in the Laguna Bluebelt doing my own “observational research” and letting you know what I see. I plan to start on Jan. 1st at noon by swimming out to the kelp bed from Main Beach and perhaps up to Monument Point to see if I can recreate this experience or have a new one. Anyone care to join me? If you don’t want to get in the water, bring your paddle board or kayak . We’ll meet at noon at the Lifeguard tower. Let’s celebrate the new year and the start of the restoration of the marine habitat in the Laguna Bluebelt.


About the Author

Sandy Lee


  1. Sandy: You have opened my eyes to the incredible beauty that lies beneath the surface of the ocean that I love but cannot see because I do not swim or dive. Thank you. Your photos and your personally exciting comments makes me understand the treasure that you call Underwater Serengeti in Laguna. Without you, your words of passion for the bottom of the sea and your camera work would be lost to so many of us – are you our very own local Sylvia Earle?

  2. Amazing photography! and bravery! Diving in cold water! Ahh! Im so glad you share it with us!
    Thank you : )

  3. Sandy, the holidays kept me from looking at your blog until now. Wowza! Your photos are gorgeous! I only knew of bat rays and leopard sharks in summer months. Now I must go out and dive Heisler Park and hopefully be lucky enough to see something similar to the magical day that you captured so beautifully. Thank you for sharing! I will point others here so they, too, can see what a glorious day you captured underwater!