Spotted fur seal and harbour seals welcome Dr. Erich Ritter and "Shark School" to the giant kelp forests of San Benitos Island – divemaster "shark chick" log – August 13, 2010

We were happy to welcome on board our guests from Germany along with Dr. Erich Ritter. As the group got their sea-legs dolphins played on our bow and we soon arrived at San Benitos. Dr. Ritter will be conducting “Shark School” on board this trip in which he lectures on different topics each night.
Our first dive day was both shocking and amazing. First jumping into the water, we were shocked by the chill and amazed by the beauty and health of the kelp forests. For kelp to grow, the water temperature needs to be a maximum of around 65F. We should have judged by the abundance of thick strong kelp floating alongside the Nautilus Explorer that the water was well below the max. Checking our temperatures, we found the water to be a fresh 55F. But with cold water comes a lot of nutrients which means more life. Once we acclimated to the unexpected cold factor, we were able to truly enjoy the beauty of a healthy kelp forest. Garibaldi were guarding their red algae gardens, large male Sheep Head cruised their territories, Senoritas busily cleaned passing customers, and of course the ever playful young Sea Lions twirled, teased, and buzzed the divers. The speed and grace with which a Sea Lion pup spins around in the water reminds us that we were not meant to swim in the seas for very long. We are fortunate visitors to this underwater world and they welcomed us with a well choreographed ballet. What an excellent first day in the kelp.
Having relocated the evening before, upon waking the second day, we enjoyed one of the famous Baja Sunrises at Isla Cedros. The island is tall and named after the Cedar tree that grows on the ridges of the cliffs. Anchoring near the northern end of the island, we edged up close to a large expanse of kelp which was one of the most beautiful dives I have ever done. During each of the three dives we did that day, I was struck by the range and intensity of the colors that exist in the shallows of a kelp forest. Following a rocky ridge that connected two areas of kelp, we saw the brilliant green of the swaying sea grass, vibrant yellow of the Giant Kelp, the deep coffee brown of the Palm Kelp, the purples and reds of the crusted algae covering the rocks, all accented by the golden Garibaldi. With a mild swell, the forest gently swayed to the natural rhythm of mother nature’s song.
Hidden amongst the tall stalks of twisted kelp and stalking in the shadows of the kelp canopy was an illusive creature. Only catching a glimpse of it here and there, the spotted fur seal was gone in a blink. Then, out of the shadows emerged our kelp monster. A cuddly animal with short flippers and big eyes: a Harbor Seal. Then another and then another. The forest was full of them and they were making contact with us. Playing hide and seek with the divers, several spotted Harbor Seals played with us all day. One diver came out of the water saying that it was the “Best underwater experience of his life.” Another diver filmed the seals biting an tugging at his fin tips then kissing the front of his camera. We had a great time diving Isla Cedros.
Our third day found us back at San Benitos. For the first dive, we chose a spot that was a little deeper then the previous days. It was early, so the light was not strong and with a very thick canopy of kelp over our heads, it was “dark and creepy” and full of mystery. Although, the site was beautiful and full of life, the thermocline dropped the temperature down a few degrees too many, so we pulled up anchor and headed for a site a little less deep. We ended up in a beautiful cove and stayed there the rest of the day. With multiple diving options, everyone was happy to stay and were rewarded with playful Sea Lions and an abundance of fish life that was incredible. A healthy Kelp Forest is so alive and vibrant.
One more diving day here at San Benitos then it is off to visit Guadalupe Island and the Great White Sharks.
Surface Conditions: Partly cloudy, sunny in the mornings, calm to breezy, mid 70’sF day temp, mid 60’sF night time.
Underwater Conditions: Viz- 30-50′ with some planktonic creatures, mild current, mild to moderate surge in some sites, water temp. 55F / 14C…. brrrrr.
Divemaster Jessie “Sharkchick”

By Nautilus Staff

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