"Sea Divers" Trip Report and Photos: Catalina - May 21, 2005

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Posted by Elaine on May 26, 2005 at 01:01:45:

Sea Divers Trip

Italian Gardens, Blue Caverns, and Bird Rock

Catalina Island, California

May 2005

Story and Photos © Elaine Jobin, may not be reproduced in part or whole without advanced written permission.

On Friday evening, May 20, 2005 the Sea Divers boarded the Great Escape.

Chris Grossman

Of special mention on this trip was the presence of "Doc". "Doc" has been a member of the Sea Divers for a very long time. He won't tell me exactly how old he is, but, I bet that he is one of the oldest active divers in Southern California.


We departed Long Beach at about 4:30 Saturday morning. There were twenty some Sea Divers aboard. The planned itinerary was a dive at the wreck of the Valiant with three more dives somewhere at Catalina Island. As we grew closer to our destination, most of us were up and about eagerly awaiting our chance to experience a scenic wreck dive

Suddenly we made a westward turn. The Harbor Patrol denied us access to our dive site. They didn't care how many releases we had signed; they felt that there was too much boat traffic in the area. (ie: the SD's on the GE got the FU from the HP). Oh dear, what is a group of Sea Divers to do?

Captain Tim pulled "Plan B" out of his on board safe and headed to Italian Gardens instead. Italian Gardens is well known for its population of Giant Black Sea Bass.

Dive One: Italian Gardens
Our early departure put us on the Giant Black Sea Bass real estate without competition from other dive boats. I jumped in and crossed my fingers that I would have a close encounter with these gentle super sized fish. I know that they rise to shallow water in the warmer months and hang out in deep water in the cooler months. On a guess, I picked a depth of 60 feet to start my search, and, about 10 minutes into the dive I had my first Giant Black Sea Bass sighting, After months of seeing only normal sized fish, he looked huge. I felt a rush of excitement when I saw that he was headed in my direction to check me out. I stayed very still as he came in for a close, but brief, look. I felt disappointment when he swam away.

I worried that this would be my only sighting. A strategy of staying in one place was productive - kind of like waiting at a bus stop. Every five minutes or so, a Giant Black Sea Bass would swim by. The actual pattern was: first a school of jack mackerel would pass, followed by a bat ray, and then a Giant Black Sea Bass. It happened over and over and over. Chris Grossman and his dive buddy Kathryn were the only ones that didn't have a Giant Black Sea Bass encounter. After the dive, someone was kind enough to draw a picture on the dry erase board for Chris to be sure that he knows what they look like :).

It was dark at 60 feet this early in the morning, and, there was a lot of particulate matter that made photography difficult. These are a few of my photos. One Giant Black Sea Bass had a fishing hook in his lip, and all of them had the parasitic copepods.

Giant Black Sea Bass,  Stereolepis gigas, Italian Gardens, Catalina, Photo by Elaine Jobin Giant Black Sea Bass,  Stereolepis gigas, Italian Gardens, Catalina, Photo by Elaine Jobin Giant Sea Bass, Stereolepis gigas, Italian Gardens, Catalina, photo by Elaine Jobin Giant Black Sea Bass, Stereolepis gigas, Italian Gardens, Catalina, Photo by Elaine Jobin

Dive Two: East Rock Quarry
The next stop was at East Rock Quarry. This can be a beautiful site, but, visibility was down to about 30 feet. I tried going deeper in search of improved conditions but it didn't help. Shallow seemed to be the key. I saw many of the Fried Egg Jellyfish - Phacellophora camschatica, some of the California Sea Cucumbers - Parastichopus californicus, aa well as a large Sheep Crab

Fried egg jellyfish, Phacellophora camtschatica,, Catalina, Photo by Elaine Jobin California Sea Cucumber, Parastichopus californicus, Photo by Elaine Jobin Sheep Crab,  Loxorhynchus grandis, Catalina Island, Photo by Elaine Jobin

Dive Three: Blue Caverns Drift Dive
Dive number three was a live drop drift dive at Blue Caverns. The area is a marine preserve. There was not a lot of current and I decided to see how far I could swim in about 40 minutes.

I didn't find this area to be densely populated. There were lots of small fish. Except for an occasional large Kelp Bass, I didn't see the variety or size of marine life that I had expected to find in a Marine Preserve. I did see more of the Jellyfish, some bat rays cruising in a line up, and, a science project tagged by California State University, Long Beach.

Senorita School, Oxyjulis californica, Catalina Island, Photo by Elaine Jobin Bat Rays, Catalina Island, Photo by Elaine Jobin

When I surfaced at the end of the dive I surveyed the amount of ground that I had covered and was a little surprised that I hadn't gone farther than I did. Scuba gear must slow me down more than I think.

Next, I made a short swim away from the cliffs for pick up. I was mentally focused on keeping a tight grip on the camera. I also had one eye on the swim step and the other eye on the prop (It never hurts to be sure that it's off). What I didn't notice was that my weight belt dropped off. Of well, I guess that one accidental weight belt loss in 15 years isn't too bad.

We enjoyed lunch during the move to our last dive site.

Dive Four: Bird Rock

I borrowed some weight (thank you Kathryn) and was able to make the last dive at Bird Rock. Bird Rock isn't on my list of favorite places right now simply because I went there so many times during lobster season.

Again, visibility was only about 30 feet, and, there were huge particulate chunks in the water column. Really bad photo conditions. There were many small egg yolk jellies here that I photographed with my Nikonos close-up kit. Due to backscatter, many of them ended up looking like comets in the night sky. These are a couple of the photos that I'm not ashamed to post. I learned that I need to get back into "perfectionist mode" with strobe placement during plankton blooms.

Phacellophora camtschatica, Fried egg jellyfish, Catalina Island, Photo by Elaine Jobin Fried egg jellyfish, Phacellophora camtschatica, Catalina Island, Photo by Elaine Jobin

Our dive day was over and we headed back to Long Beach. Thanks Capt. Tim and Great Escape crew for another delightful Sea Diver trip.

Until next time...........

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