Sea Lions at San Benitos

San Benitos: A Sea Lion’s Playground

The three small islands of San Benitos are one of my favourite dive sites on the planet. And I have been to quite a few places! It is remote and has four kinds of pinnipeds: Californian sea lions, Guadalupe fur seals, Harbour seals and Elephant seals, so all that is needed is to have some great white sharks around… more on that later.

When I first came to San Benitos about 10 years ago, there was a dense kelp forest. Unfortunately, in the last 4 years, it has disappeared as the water temperature has increased. I was talking to the fishing cooperative here in San Benitos and on Cedros, the neighbouring main island, and they said that some of the kelp had returned in Cedros but here in San Benitos it is still not back, just the shorter stocky palm kelp but not the giant kelp.

Still the diving is great, a lot of variation of the topography, pinnacles, canyons and we have blue clear water, with the visibility sitting at around 30 metres. Besides the bigger animals, which have mostly been sea lions, we have also seen green turtles and bat rays. The bright orange Garibaldi fish are everywhere.

As mentioned, what about sharks? Well what we see here are mostly horn sharks, and in the past I have also seen a tope shark, which is a shark species that has a maximum size of about 2 meters and that likes to swim around in the kelp.

A couple years ago some fishermen showed me a 2 meter tope shark that has been bitten in half… and talking to the watchmen of the fishing cooperative, just a few months ago a spearfisher was approached by a 4 meter white shark and he had to poke it’s nose with the bar of the speargun to keep it away. They have been seeing white sharks more frequently both in San Benitos and Cedros. Other sharks that they see here are Makos, and a sixgill shark was fished up some years ago, as well as thresher sharks and even hammerheads now that the water has been getting warmer.

We have half a day left today before we are heading 150 miles up to Guadalupe Island. It is not a far swim for a white shark… so lets see what happens on the next two dives. So far we have just seen horn sharks.

I am just happy to be back again in San Benitos, I feel like a kid in a candy store, there is so much to discover here. I just hope the temperature will fall in the water and the kelp will come back!

–DM Sten, the Nautilus UnderSea


If I had to describe San Benitos’ diving in just a few words, I would say that is is a “sea lion’s playground.” Out of the four dives we did here today there were pinnipeds on every single one.

Our second dive at San Benitos started out fairly quiet in about 40ft of water. We swam along the island’s edge for about 30 minutes until we came up to a “wash rock.” The rock sat in about 20ft of water and was surrounded by an underwater meadow. After just a few minutes it was clear to see why the sea lions make this spot their home. This is the perfect place for the young sea lions to play and zoom around us as we approached.

The young sea lions were timid at first, however when we started to turn and flip upside down like they do, they soon came in close to join in on the fun. I have seen sea lions before, but nothing like at San Benitos.

–DM William, the Nautilus UnderSea

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