The great contortionists.

One of the things I love about diving in California is that most of the really unique and interesting creatures are not immediately visible. Much of the life here blends in with its surroundings and can be easily missed. Sure there are things like the Spanish Shawl and some other nudibranchs, that while small, stick out like a sore thumb with their bright purple and orange coloring, but many of the fish and crab and other ocean dwellers along our coasts are a bit more drab, or at least appear so at first sight. They hide away among the rocks, slink in the kelp or nestle themselves in the sand… blending in and disappearing.

One of my favorites of these magicians is the octopus. With its beak being the only hard part of its body the octopus is really the great contortionist of the ocean, often found squeezed into little holes and all wrapped up on itself as it hides away. Since it is rare to see one just out and a about, especially out here, they can be easily missed. You have to know what you are looking for, which is typically the eye.

While the octopus can change color to mimic its surroundings and blend in even more the eye does not change. It will stay white with its black slit, which is what usually will catch the attention of the diver as they swim over. Its very easy to miss these creatures, for example, this guy was curled up in a hole about 2 feet from a hermit crab that I had been photographing for about ten minutes. I paused and glanced to my right briefly and to my astonishment, there he was just sitting there. I’m sure I’ve swam over countless octopus hidden away in holes over the course of many dives but its always great when you look in the right spot at the right time and discover a little treasure all neatly packed up for your viewing pleasure.

What I really love about these guys, is how at first they appear mostly brown, blending in the with the rocks and surroundings, but when you look closely its easy to discover that their skin is a riot of color, all able to change and flash and adapt to whatever they’re resting on. It might just look like a mottled brown rock, but will also pull in the pinks and greens of the surrounding algae and anemones to further the camouflage. In addition to the great color palette, the octopus displays amazing patterns.

With its skin a web of dots and lines and stripes and circles, the octopus blends in well to its surroundings. The patterns can shift and change just like the colors do making this creature not only a great contortionist, but also a master of disguise.

Next time you’re out diving, keep an eye down along the rocks looking for any holes, nooks or crannies and keep a look out for the white eye. You just might stumble upon an octopus!

Scubapalooza!

Its been a long time coming, but here it is, the Catalina, Casino Point Scubapalooza recap! On June 19-20th Richard and I got up at the crack of dawn (literally, it was still dark when I pulled out of my apartment complex) to catch the Long Beach Catalina Express to catch the 6:15AM boat. I literally mean catch. Thanks to poor google directions and being about half awake I managed to miss two exits, get turned around, end up almost back in San Pedro, making it onto the boat with less than 5 minutes to spare.

We got to Avalon around 8:00am, had some delicious breakfast at Joes diner, checked into the hotel then went off in search of Scuba Luv to pick up a pair of Nitrox tanks. We had decided to dive nitrox that weekend, because our plan was to get as many dives in as possible. Nitrox would allow us to dive more, because we’d be absorbing less nitrogen (Why its Great!). We discovered just how long the walk around the harbor from the boat to Casino Point can really seem!

The weather was sunny and warm, and the water is calm. I discovered how to use the stairs at low tide, where you can’t easily wade into the water, because they end before you get wet! A gentle fall on your side splashes you into the ocean without hitting the bottom and tearing up the grasses and reef! We dove to the right, we dove to the left, we dove down into the depths finding the glass bottom boat, the swim platform, both the Jacques Cousteau and La Cruzado Plaques! In the middle we took a long lunch break with some delicious pasta (funny how hungry you get while diving!) Then it was back in the water, where the diving was great, the viz was good, not the best though, but still good. As night ¬†fell we relaxed watching the sun set before donning our gear one last time for a night dive.

A warm shower, and delicious fancy meal and a few drinks, we headed back to the hotel where Richard promptly fell asleep, snoring from the other side of the room. I watched part of a movie on my computer then it was off to dreamland myself. The next morning it was new tanks, we didn’t feel like paying the extra cash for nitrox and decided since it was day two and we weren’t doing as many dives, we’d just do air…hell, we could sleep on the boat on the way home. In retrospect, I would have dove nitrox… it was amazing just how tired you are after 5 dives! It’d definitely worth the extra cash. Diving was good again and we explored further on each side of the park, revisiting several parts we had liked the day before. We ended a little early so we could rinse off, change and pack up the gear. A large root beer float was a nice ending to the day before piling back onto the Catalina Express and reality on the mainland.

Check out our adventure!

North @ Vets.

Friday night Jessica, Bryan and I ventured back out to Veterans Park to squeeze in two quick dives that would bring my total dive count to 98. We did this because we were diving the oil rigs off of Long Beach the following morning and I desperately wanted to make the oil rig dives fall on my 100 dive. 100 is a pretty big milestone in the dive world and I was extremely excited to be hitting it.

Everytime I dive Vet’s I have gone south. Its a west facing beach, so we swim west to the depth we want, then turn south in the canyon and swim down until either our air or time limit is up and we turn around to swim back to the entry. Vets is all sandy bottom, so its not the most exciting dive, but in the evening or at night there are a plethora of creatures that come out. Typically you see octopus, crab, small fish like scoropionfish, sarcastic fringehead, cusk eels, lots of sand dollars, and sea stars. Friday however, we decided to explore north for something different. There is supposed to be a large grassy area, known as the “Salad Bowl” just north of the stairs that you use to get to the beach. We were told that you can find more life in this area than you usually see heading north, and that often there are nudibranch hiding out in the grass.

Either, we didn’t swim far enough or it just wasn’t a good day for nudi hunting. The grassy area was fairly sparse, and while there were a bunch of little octopus swimming around that was about it. I saw a nice scorpionfish and was able to get a great shot of him resting in the sand, but otherwise it was a rather boring and cold couple of dives. However these two dives weren’t really for quality, they were for quantity, and by completing them I was able to align the oil rigs and my 100th dive!

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Malaga Cove, at Night.

Friday night I ventured out with two friends to explore a favorite site of mine after dark. I was slightly worried because the weather forecast had shown larger waves than the earlier prediction and this site mucks up quickly because its fairly shallow. I had also been dry for about two weeks, after the delay of my instructor exam date I decided to take it easy and have been picky about choosing my dives. However, after a stressful week at work (read: probably going on “hiatus” in a few weeks due to how crappy things are going in the industry), I just needed to be underwater.

We met up in the parking lot, and the ocean was calm and quiet. So far, so good. Daryl, Richard and I gabbed as we donned our gear, I made the last minute decision to bring the camera since the calm seas meant I wouldn’t have to stress over it getting battered on the rocks during the entry and exit, and I am SO glad that I did. As we kicked out along the surface I could tell that the visibility was going to be good and my spirits rose.

We dropped down in about 15 feet of water and began kicking over the sand towards the dive site. Our max on this dive was 24 feet, so you can imagine how quickly it would go from good to bad with a larger surf, but that night we lucked out. On top of the great conditions, it seemed that everything was also out enjoying the night. We ran across a small thornback ray immediately after dropping down, then crossed paths with a large horn shark as we swam into the kelp and rock ledges. There were large Sheep Crabs wandering across the sandy patches in numbers I had never seen before. We must have passed at least 10 throughout the dive!

Richard pointed out an octopus all stuffed into a tiny hole in a rocky outcropping as we swam over and through the ledge-like outcroppings that mark Malaga Cove dive site. The most entertaining for me (aggravating for Richard) were the lobster. They were everywhere and they were docile and unafraid. Usually lobster hide in holes in the rocks, or in crevasses just out of reach, but tonight they were out swimming around, lounging on top of the rocks in plain sight and easy grabbing proximity. To top it off, they didn’t swim away when you got near. I was even able to pick one up, though was so startled by the fact that I could that I dropped it immediately as soon as it squirmed. Richard, who is a hunter, could not believe they were just out like this and was extremely bummed that it was not lobster season. Soon, Rich, soon... season opens midnight on October 1st.

As we continued the dive it just got better. I found a nicely sized octopus out and about and was able to follow him as he swam along the rocks, molding and melting to whatever shape he passed over. Towards the end I ran across a tiny little baby Horn Shark just curled up against a little rock cluster. As we returned to the sand at the end of the dive we ran across another Thornback Ray, larger this time, and in no hurry to swim away as I snapped picture after picture. Then just before we surfaced we stumbled onto a large Pacific Angel Shark nestled in the sand. Really, what more could we have asked for?

The Itty Bitty Octopus Convention

I’ll admit, we were uninvited guests. The people who sneak into the ballroom as the doors close and take a seat in the back. You know they didn’t pay for the convention, and the probably don’t care about the speaker, they’re just there for the free buffet and drinks. That was us, only we were intruding, bubbles and all, on what seemed like a tiny octopus convention. Monday night we dove Vet’s Park at twilight. It was my first time entering the water here while the sun was still up and it was amazing. There were small (about the size of a lime) Red Octopus EVERYWHERE! I easily shone my light over 15 or more. Like I said a moment ago… amazing.

Diving here at twilight was definitely weird. For the first time in my short Scuba life I really felt the weight of the water. We maxed out around 80ft and I flipped onto my back and looked up towards the sky. At most dive sites when you do this you see the water and a small round orb that’s the fuzzy sun reflecting down… or you get a fuzzy blue mass when the viz is not great. Here however it was a deep green blur that looked a bit menacing, and overall, heavy. Honestly I didn’t like it. Most of the dive really seemed like a typical night dive, the site was dark at 30ft and we needed our lights, so flipping back over I just pretended that green mass wasn’t there. When I wasn’t using my light to see, it sort of felt like I was looking through night-vision googles; everything was cast in a green hue and contrast was high.

We swam south as usual, passing octopus after octopus, and tons of little Sand Dabs, most of which were so well camouflaged that I could barely make them out. I saw a really cool snail, thanks to Tim who pointed it out. Its called a Lewis’ Moon Snail, and has a small smooth shell that at first I thought I was seeing a snail in search of a new home! There was also a great (again TINY…thats they key word from this dive) Scorpionfish, that was not camera shy and let me get right up near it. To top off the dive there were several large Rock Crap who didn’t feel like exerting the effort to move and allowed me to get some lovely photographs. I especially liked the pair that looked like they were cuddling! I was a little annoyed at my camera which was having trouble focusing in the nearly non-existent light, but in the long run it did alright. I’ve dove this site now more than any other site and I can easily say that I am always impressed by how it changes each time. The life is extremely interesting right now and I can not wait to go back down!

Sweet San Clemente!

Last weekend I braved gale force winds and 13ft high seas to travel to San Clemente Island for an exciting day of diving. Well thats not entirely true, the trip was delayed until the seas and wind calmed a bit, but it was still a bumpy ride (not that I would know, I slept through most of it!). Our scheduled 8:00pm departure was pushed to midnight in order to let the wind and high seas diminish so we could safely make the six hour motor out to San Clemente Island. This meant no Catalina night dive, but we were able to still get in 4 dives off San Clemente so there was no loss.

After rolling back and forth on my bunk as I drifted in and out of sleep we pulled up to San Clemente around 6:00am. We were up and dressing as the boat laid anchor so that we could be in the water as soon as possible, giving us the most possible time for diving. The sun was barely up as we made our first giant stride off the back of the boat.

Sea Cucumber and a Tiny GobySite #1 was called Fish Hook. We swam off the boat away from the island towards a large patch of kelp. Through the kelp we emerged onto an immense wall that plunged to below 100ft. Knowing we had a full day of diving we capped our dive around 80ft and explored up and down the wall. The visibility was fantastic, and there were a ton of critters around including all the usual suspects (Garibaldi, Kelp Bass, Sheephead, Senorita Wrasse and Blue Banded Gobies). There were a bunch of sea stars and even a baby sheephead (which I in my ignorance was rather excited about before looking it up because I thought it was a new fish I had yet to see! Oh well…just a Sheephead.) The highlight of the dive for me was when I glanced down into the depths to see a 6-7ft Soupfin Shark cruising along the wall. It was sleek, smooth and AWESOME! I had to keep myself from charging after it down into the depths. Luckily I had wicked fast video skills and caught it on camera!

Site #2: was called Wash Rock. We were told that we should see LOTS of the Soupfin sharks in the shallows, but we must have gone to the wrong section of shallows because we saw none (sadness). Upon surfacing we found that one group had seen a whole bunch, up to ten all laying in the sand just chilling. (Lame!) Anyways, we headed east from the boat exploring a very surgy shallow area. It was beautiful and full of fish, so I can’t really complain about not seeing any sharks. We did come across a HUGE bat ray with a little bat ray sleeping next to it in the sand which was great. After exploring the shallows a bit we headed slightly deeper near the boat and explored a cool section of kelp.

Site #3: After another surface interval we jumped into a site called Green Acres. I’m sure you can guess how this site got its name. Its a huge expanse of thick healthy kelp that seems to go FOREVER down and down into the water. We kept the dive fairly shallow since it was our third and we had one more to go, but the kelp and the rock formations on the bottom (as Jessica pointed out, they looked almost volcanic…which they probably were!) were fantastic. We found 2 octopus all curled up inside some holes in the rocky ground and I discovered how much I hate that I can’t bend my strobe all the way down level with my camera…it was damn near impossible to get the camera and the strobe into the small hole to light up the octopus, but I managed fairly well on the second one.

Site #4: Little Rock. This site was a bed of sea grass and weeds. We traveled along, and I brought a bunch up with me after sinking down into the weed beds to get some photos. We progressed into a kelp forest and explored before circling around, overshooting the boat and swimming back. Unfortunately for me, I learned that my camera battery quickly progresses from the “halfway dead” symbol to completely dead and ended up with a dead battery early on in the dive. I was however able to eek out one shot, not great though, when I came across a large Moray Eel in a patch of rocks.

Our group of friends, most from Eco Dive Center, made for a great trip. We had enjoyable surface intervals, full of delicious food thanks to the awesome staff of the Sand Dollar dive boat. Quick fills allowed us to keep getting in the water as soon as the boat set anchor and the gates were open. The weather was clear, the water was warm (for CA…around 59-55 degrees!) and I really don’t think the day could have been better!

Blackjack anyone?

Monday night I met up with Kristan and Richard down in Redondo for a quick night dive off of Veteran’s Park. The ocean was calm and there were no waves to battle as we easily walked into the sea. Cruising down the canyon Kristan had a bit of equalization issues, but was able to clear and we swam down to 100ft to settle on the sand. Unzipping a pocket of his BCD Kristan pulled out a pack of water proof cards and began to deal out a hand of black jack! I got my first card, a Queen…so far so good. Next came a 10 and of course when signaled I chose to stay. Everyone turned over their hand and with 20 points I was the big winner! It was smilies all around, then we carefully gave back the cards, I cleared my mask (one of the drawbacks of smiling…you break the mask seal and it floods. I would wager that 90% of my dive time is done with a partially flooded mask, the other 10% is the few minutes after clearing it!)

After the game we started our ascent, exploring the bottom as we slowly swam up out of the canyon. On the way down we had seen a pretty good sized Red Octopus, just out for a night of hunting. On the way back there were the usual crabs, several Mantis Shrimp, a Red Irish Lord and even an itty bitty teeny tiny baby octopus! Overall a great dive, though I will say, beware of that thermocline… it was COLD down at depth, around 50 degrees!! Yikes!

Red Octopus out hunting.

Mantis Shrimp... these guys are a pain to get a picture of...the swim off as soon as you get near.

This little octopus was about the size of a golf ball! So cute!

A Red Irish Lord laying in the sand.