“Everywhere they went they were greeted with a familiar cry surfers have heard 1,000 times each, quote: You guys reeeeally missed it, you should’ve been here yesterday.” Bud Brown, Endless Summer
In Bud Brown’s classic adventure surfing film The Endless Summer, surfers Robert August and Mike Hynson travel the globe with longboards in tow, searching for the perfect uncrowded wave. The team travel great distances, endure mishap and suffer hardship seeking surf and end up countless times disappointed by a flat ocean. “You should have been here yesterday,” the locals advise. This byline serves as an unfortunate metaphor for large fish in the ocean. With migratory fish, especially large pelagic sharks vanishing, divers like me are experiencing the Endless Summer effect. To find big sharks, we should have been here yesterday. Yet with four National Marine Sanctuaries, a network of Marine Protected Areas and some of the most productive ocean in the world, there must be sharks to dive with in the Golden State.
In March, fellow filmmakers and shark conservationists loaded our dive gear and cameras into a van to search for the perfect shark along the California Coast. The adventure was hatched at the International Ocean Film Festival San Francisco after screening our Borneo Shark Special, and Little Teeth: Saving Sharks in Bali by co-adventurers Claudia and Hendrik Schmitt of The JetLagged, and by Robert Nixon’s Blue Serengeti. Inspired by Dr. Sylvia Earle whom we hosted on a panel and interviewed for the film, we decided to go find some California sharks and dive some of California’s Marine Protected Areas.
Excited for the adventure, we loaded the van with gear, a chocolate lab and the obligatory longboard for a road trip seeking the perfect shark. Who knows what we will find along the rocky reefs and kelp forests of the California subtidal sea? At each stop we ask “Where are the sharks?” Our first dive is in the San Francisco Bay, an important nursery for many species of sharks like leopard sharks and a feeding zone for some large pelagics including great white sharks. Assessing eelgrass as part of a habitat restoration and protection investigation , we come up muddy after the heavy sediments running out with the rainfall leave the bay looking more like a cup of coffee. If the sharks were there, we couldn’t see them.
We load up the VW and continue to Santa Cruz and Point Lobos, encountering seals, sea otters and seabirds, but no sharks. I have been diving and surfing the California coast for over 40 years and in that time I have experienced our local decline of populations of large sharks. Diving the Channel Islands we used to see scores of Blue Sharks sunning at the surface. White sharks are on the rebound after overfishing but we rarely see the adults.
The last time I saw a blue shark was a single shark at Catalina Island five years ago. Where do the sharks live, what is their biology and population size? Where are the California sharks? Do the Sanctuaries and Marine Protected Areas we have in California protect sharks? Should we really have been here yesterday?
These are some of the questions we will ask while diving the California coastline, interviewing experts and ocean enthusiasts, and discover the underwater world and wildlife of the California Shark Republic.
In this quest we will tell the story of diving California, and to find the perfect shark. Follow me this summer as we continue the adventure.