Santa Barbara Island | Scuba Diving

Santa Barbara Island

The playful sea lions of Santa Barbara.

Todd Winner

I'm not going to miss that snorkel. The truth is, I hardly used it. So when the first sea lion pup gingerly reached for it, I figured the sporting thing to do was to hand it over.

We were taking things slowly. My giant stride entry near Santa Barbara Island's Shag Rock scared the pups away, but before long they wandered back, curious to examine me.

Then the games began. They rushed at my face, barking and spinning skyward at the precise moment before impact. As we got to know each other, their movements slowed. They paused on the sand to examine me, growing more comfortable with each passing minute. Before long, we were fast friends and they were nipping curiously at my strobes, my lens, my fins and my head.

That's when it happened. My new companions were playing keep-away with one another — picking up rocks and sea cucumbers in their mouths, carrying them about, tossing them around, and then dropping them near a friend. Mother Nature herself provided plenty of toys, so when one pup took interest in dislodging the snorkel from my mask, I figured we'd enjoy a friendly match — some tossing, some swimming — all innocent fun. No chance. He grabbed the shiny new toy and sped off into the distant blue, the proud new owner of a snorkel.

My shock soon turned to hysterical laughter. No, I don't miss the snorkel at all. And considering all the fun I had on that dive, I'd call it an even trade.

| | Are you using that snorkel? One of California's friendly neighbors.|

Dive In: Santa Barbara Island

LOCATION: The smallest of the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara Island is located 38 miles from Long Beach, Calif.

PROFILE: The best diving is found off the north shore or the protected east side. Shag Rock and Landing Cove are two popular anchorages with easy, sloping profiles from 30 to 70 feet. Sea lions are the main attraction, but you don't find them; they find you. Keep your movements slow, steady and nonthreatening or wait quietly on the bottom. Once they warm up to you, they may playfully bite at you. Usually, these are just soft, inquisitive bites, but offer them a fin or another piece of gear rather than an arm or hand. Sea lions tend to roll around in the sand, so if you are trying to take photographs, your best bet is to rise off the bottom about 10 feet to minimize backscatter and maximize visibility.

WATER CONDITIONS: Visibility averages 30 to 50 feet with peaks of 80 feet in the summer and fall. There is normally little current, though there can be significant surge in the shallows. Expect water temperatures ranging from 58F to 68F.

DIVE OPERATORS:
Great Escape, (866) DIVE-BOAT, http://diveboat.com.
Horizon and Ocean Odyssey, (858) 277-7823, www.horizoncharters.com.
Pacific Star, (310) 921-9210, www.pacificstardiving.com.
Peace, (866) 984-2025, www.peaceboat.com/peace.htm.
Psalty V, (310) 714-0548, www.psaltyadventures.com.
Sand Dollar, (877) 444-BOAT, www.diving.net/sanddollar.html.
Truth, Conception and Vision, (805) 962-1127, www.truthaquatics.com.

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