It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Diving in Southern California can be challenging, especially when conditions aren’t stellar.  But during the months from August to October, the Southern California coast boasts some of its best scuba diving conditions.  During these months the water is a bit warmer, typically clearer, and the bait fish come out in force.  I think the bait fish are probably the factor that makes all the rest of the diving spectacular.

Sea lions hunting sardines under the oil rig platform, Eureka
Sea lions hunting sardines under the oil rig platform, Eureka

When the sardines and anchovies start to school, the ocean becomes much more alive with activity.  These bait fish will congregate under places that have shade, such as under jettys, piers, oil rig platforms, and even kelp. Their shimmering sides reflect the light as they move, and they make the most interesting patterns, even appearing to communicate a message as they move through the water.

Bait fish schooling near Anacapa Island
Bait fish schooling near Anacapa Island look like they are pleading for peace!

But the fun part is the hunt.  It is amazing to see all the different animals that hunt sardines. Sea lions are numerous and playful.  I have observed a sea lion capture a fish, then use it like a ball, playing catch with another sea lion.  I even had one try to give me a fish once!

Sea lion hunting bait fish
Sea lion hunting bait fish

Sometimes, the bait fish will form a tight ball as other larger fish such as barracuda and bonito circle around, occasionally darting in to pick off a straggler.

bait fish cluster close together for protection against predators
bait fish cluster close together for protection against predators
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A bonito darts into the school for a snack

The most unique thing to see under water are the birds that swim down to catch an anchovie.  I have seen the cormorants as deep as 60 feet, hunting their prey.

A cormorant hunts for a meal
A cormorant hunts for a meal

They are a little shy of divers, but when they are in the heat of the hunt, they will often come face to face with us bubble blowers before they realize we are there.

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Scuba diving in the Autumn in Southern California has its perks.  As it is just now the beginning of August, I can hardly wait to see what this season will bring.

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My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
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