San Diego, California

San Diego has always been a city that revolved around the sea. With it's stunning beaches, wild life parks, and many first class restaurants, it's dive sites are often overlooked. San Diego has a few world famous dive sites as well as some of the best Kelp Forests in the world.

The California Bight lies between the southern Californian coast and Channel Islands, which dot the temperate Pacific waters off the American West Coast. The warm temperate marine communities of this region make it one of the world's richest oceanographic areas. Inshore is dominated by golden kelp forests. Offshore are the deeps of the blue-water channel. This is the place for diving with blue sharks. Dive boats transport groups of divers 12 to 15 miles (19 to 24 krn) off the coast from San Diego. The Coronados Islands rise in peaks to the south; the long, rounded mountain of San Clemente Island breaks up the western horizon. All around is the vast Pacific, sometimes green, sometimes blue, some days glassy and sunlit, others choppy and covered in fog. April to September is the best time to dive to avoid the strong winds and big seas of winter;

The dive boat sets a sea anchor, then a roomy shark cage with a door at the rear is lowered over the side. This hangs around 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 m) below the surface. A divemaster in a protective chain-mail suit accompanies three divers to the cage. It feels strange to stand in a barred cage suspended in the open ocean, with the clear blue depths falling away, the invisible bottom more than a mile below. You wait nervously, searching the dimensionless space for a flash of the blue shark.

As soon as the divemaster, still outside the cage, begins to release bait ; chum, they start to arrive--speeding, grace blues-first 1, then 6, soon as many as 20.

The sharks snap at the bait and bump the cage, wanting to test its taste and texture. In the midst of this rush of blue muscle, white teeth and adrenalin, the practiced (and suit-protected) divemaster allows a small blue shark to bite his chain-mail-clad arm. Photographers! safe in: the cage only inches away, consume film faster than the sharks do bait. You will soon become accustomed to the excitement, and revel in the spectacle. Elegant juveniles barely 2 feet (60 cm) long jet between adults up to 7 feet (2.1 m) and more, all feeding voraciously. A mako might race past in the distance, while strange, seemingly tailless mola molas (ocean sunfish) swim around at a leisurely pace.

The bait and chum are soon gone, and once the ocean current has dispersed any remaining food scraps, the blues begin to slip away, back into the vast ocean. Divers can now return to the boat, being especially careful as they go.

EQUIPMENT

Only scuba diving is possible in the shark cage.

A full 3/16 inch (5 mm) wetsuit is rc:commended, but some divers prefer a dry suit as it can get

cool waiting in the cage. Dive guides will help you get your weight right for the stationary cage.

SPECIAL FEATURES

California gray whales migrate through the channel in winter on their way to their calving grounds in Mexico. Blue whales also visit the California Bight, and the second known specimen of the megamouth shark was caught in the vicinity .

You should explore the kelp forests close to shore. Beneath the canopy of massed fronds there are colorful fish, lobsters, eels, swellsharks , leopard sharks, California hornsharks , and even the occasional stingray. Watch especially for California's state marine fish, the bright golden (and pugnacious) garibaldi.

The Channel Islands, which can be visited by boat, are a refuge for seals, sea lions, whales, and sea birds. Back on the mainland, Sea World, in San Diego, offers one of the world's best introductions to living sharks. The Steven Birch Aquarium, of the famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has exhibits on local sea life and international marine research.

        

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