Santa Cruz Island, Scorpion Anchorage Dive Report July 2011

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Posted by FrankPro1 on August 04, 2011 at 16:04:33:

Back from another great Scorpion Anchorage trip! This was our 5th summer excursion to Santa Cruz Island and it will certainly not be the last. As we crossed the channel the wind and swell picked up as we neared the islands. Luckily Scorpion Ranch is an east facing anchorage, providing almost complete protection from swell this time of year. When we reached the pier I could see a myriad of juvenile confederated salps in clear aquamarine colored water. The vis was good. After packing in the gear and setting up camp it was too late for Charlie to dive with me, so dive 1 on the island was solo. Instead of surface swimming alone to the outer pinnacle, Charlie opted to tow me out there via kayak. This Scorpion Rock lies in 50ft and consists of a central pinnacle with surrounding low lying reefs. The pinnacle is etched with crevices, small arches and overhangs. A few minutes into the dive I found one of the smaller extension reefs off the pinnacle. During my search for an interesting photo subject, I feel a tug on my back and see Charlie swimming over the reefs ledge and then up through the water column into the blinding summer sun. Something I didn't expect to see at 50ft. In years prior, juvenile Treefish and Clown Dorids were the two dominant critters at this site. This year however, shrimp and cup corals painted the landscape. I only saw a handful of juvenile clown dorids and even fewer Treefish. Also the groups of large adult Bat Rays which inhabit the sandier plains of the anchorage were nowhere to be found. About half way through dive 1, I found an island kelpfish in a small recessed overhang. I took some test shots for proper exposure and waited for him to advance out of his den. He was very uncooperative and shy, so I decided to live him alone. It was then I see a large figure out of the corner of my eye. I spin around to face the encroaching mass, to find a huge Bull male sea lion less then a few feet from me. Visions of MaxBottomtime's intense Bull encounter at Marineland and my buddy Nate's similar event at Flat Rock, flashed through my mind. This guy must have been easily 400 pounds. Staring into his eyes which felt like ages, but more likely seconds in reality, we floated studying each other. I slowly raise my camera for a photo and he disappears.

The next morning we went out for a kayak / free dive session. The plan was to head over to a rocky beach which has a small underwater arch in 15-20ft of water. On our way there we saw a Boston Whaler fishing within the MPA. By the time we past Little Scorpion, the captain of the Island Packer boat moored just outside the anchorage noticed this and informed the anglers of the MPA's restrictions. Unluckily they decided to pull anchor and head where? Right outside the under water arch :( This was only one of several boats observed fishing well within the MPA during our trip. With the arch site out for the day we headed west back past the Anchorage to another known spot of ours. This small cove hosts mini walls and a beautiful kelp forest right outside a large cave. When we reached the cove, a pair of yearling Harbor Seals were sunning on our beaching spot. Rather then disturbing these young pups we decided to head back down the island for a quick free dive just outside the pier. Visibility was fairly solid at 15-20ft with some suspended particles. My buddy spotted a comb jelly as well as a so far unidentifiable fish. I missed it, but can only say his description and drawings lead me to believe it was a juvenile flying fish.

On scuba dive 2, Charlie and I dove the outer pinnacle again. Highlights included schooling blue rockfish, shrimp, shrimp and more shrimp.... as well as a Cabezon, Mexichromis porterae and San Diego dorids. We also saw a few groups of Yellow Tail Jacks but they were very skittish and kept just outside of strobe range. Our next free dive brought us to a sandy beach just inshore from Emerald Cave. Charlie had encountered a group of sea lions the day before at this site. We saw no sea lions, but two curious harbor seals stayed with us for at least twenty minutes. They were very trusting and hung on the surface with me, sometimes within arms reach. I'm still beating myself up for not bringing my camera system on this dive. So many missed photo ops! My third scuba dive was again solo. Visibility was at its best on this dive "very clear 30ft+" but there was no rare critters seen. Major highlight was a few big boy Sheephead which cruised the reefs. After 40 minutes, I headed across the sand and into the shallow kelp bed near shore. The emerald canopy beckoned me to stay and not leave her, but alas all tanks must go empty. Till the next fill :)

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