Where do divers dive when they cannot swim far? I often see new divers descend right at the entry point, and watch their bubbles as they swim east, out into the sand channel. Now, there are some interesting things in the sand, but, during the daytime, they are buried. The most easily accessible dive in Point Lobos is along the rock breakwater that runs along the parking lot at Whaler’s Cove, and around the point known as Cannery Point.
The geological constriction created by Cannery Point and Coal Chute Point creates two distinct zones of water; inside the cove and outside the cove. There is a dramatic change in environment as a diver swims around the point, and it is the contrasts of these two areas that makes this an interesting dive.
Swimming along the edge of the parking lot, the rock wall falls to a sandy bottom about 20 feet deep. A diver should have a good light with which to look deep into the rocks that form the breakwater. In winter and early spring, when there is a good exchange of water in the cove, there will be large rockfish hiding in the holes. There are sometimes a few monkey-faced eels, Cebidichthys violaceus, hiding in the rocks just to the north of the entry, and I recently saw several red abalone, Haliotis rufescence, hiding there about 10feet deep. This area is notable for its abundance of green algae, such as Codium, Bryopsis, and Ulva, the sea lettuce. It’s a good place to look for the well-camouflaged sacoglossid, Elysia hedgepethi, a small, green relative of the sea hare and nudibranchs, that likes to eat both Codium and Bryopsis. As you swim further north, you’ll enter a large kelp forest at Cannery Point.
Swimming out northwest of the kelp, there is a sudden change in environment, not unlike walking out of the woods into a meadow. The water here is heavily aerated and always in motion, unlike the still water of the inner cove, and supports an entirely different eco-system. The visibility underwater is usually double that of the inner cove, and the well-oxygenated water supports more than twice the number of animals and plants. The substrate is composed of large boulders that have fallen from the point and tumble to the sand channel 35 feet deep. There are deep pockets of old abalone shells. The dominant species here are the coraline algae, whose 19 species cover the substrate in rosy pink. At first glance, it is an overwhelming pink, but looking closer, you will find many small and large camouflaged fish and crabs. This is a good place to look for the coraline sculpin, Artedius, as well as other sculpins, cabezon, and lingcod. I found a rare species of crab, Cryptolithodes, hidden in this spot. The water column here is filled with members of the perch family, including my favorite, the rubberlip surfperch, Rhacochilus. Swimming around the point further west into a harbor seal rookery, the diver will usually find an extra buddy along for the dive or tugging on your fins. The shallow rocks are covered with the bright green surf grass, Philosphadix, which offers a striking contrast to the otherwise pink surroundings.
When diving this area, it is important, especially during the summer, when the kelp is thickest, to stay oriented to the location of the sand channel. Ascending in the thick kelp is a hassle at best and can be hazardous to a diver who is not used to kelp. The sand channel parallels the breakwater and runs out to the mouth of Whaler’s Cove. If you are diving anywhere west of the channel, the best place to ascend is to swim east, under the kelp canopy, until you see the sand channel. Ascending here, where there is little, if any, kelp, will make the swim back to the exit much easier and safer.
By Patrick Lovejoy ©1997
map illustration by Reiko Michisaki