Diving through a California kelp forest

The west coast of North America is home to enormous kelp “forests” which can easily be seen from land, appearing like a giant, dark mat on the surface of the sea. From below, these communities of algae appear like a true woods, with long strands of macrocystis pyrifera kelp rising from the murky depths like slender, waving tree trunks. The giant kelp community is typically chock full of sea life, such as the ever-curious spotted calico bass, the funny-looking (at least the males look funny) buck-toothed sheep head, darling schools of opaleye, and the California state fish, the almost iridescent orange garibaldi. In deeper water, at the edge of the forest, you may encounter intimidating schools of long (up to six feet) barracuda which slowly circle a diver to glare at us with curious intimidation, showing off such rows of teeth as might make a tyrannosaur blush. And if you are very lucky you may occasionally see a fast moving school of elusive white sea bass or even that rarest of fish, the giant sea bass which can grow to over 500 pounds. Rays, skates, halibut and leopard sharks patrol the bottom of the kelp forest while seals, sea lions, dolphin and occasionally whales monitor the sea lanes and mid-depths. While it’s quite easy for the free diver (no SCUBA) to “fly” through such forests on a deep lungful of air, coming back to the surface in the middle of the forest may leave you with a new head ornament to wear for a few seconds until you are ready to take in another deep lungful of air to descend again into the blue-grey depths.

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