February 2, 2002
We geared up at the car and then walked down a steep trail to the kelp-covered beach. The hike was tough in full gear, but the dive wasn't about to get any easier just because we were getting in the water. We had to swim out to the kelp forest, which meant backstroking against some strong surge and then crawling over kelp to avoid getting entangled. By the time we finished the 100 yard swim I was tired and needed to catch my breath before starting the dive. I was almost ready to descend when my DM, who was facing me, got wide-eyed and pointed over my shoulder. Not sure what to expect, I turned to see a whale only yards away and swimming toward us. I quickly pulled on my mask and went under. It was a female California Gray whale and she was accompanied by her calf! They came within 15 feet of us as they passed and then they were gone. A crew on a dive boat outside of the kelp started shouting and cheering for us and I joked that we could head back to shore since that was about as cool as it could get and there was no reason to actually dive.
We did dive, of course, and the kelp forest was magical. The water in the bay is cold, 55 degrees below the thermocline, but the unique life in this, the largest kelp beds in the country, made this a fascinating dive experience. The visibility was lower than that in tropical waters due to the nutrients and plankton in the water, which leads to the remarkable biodiversity in the area. Starfish of all shapes and colors, including a huge Sea Star, and abalone were abundant. My first cold-water ocean dive was probably the hardest I have had to work to get to a dive site. The whale alone was worth the effort, but the kelp beds and the amazing diversity of underwater life in our largest national environmental sanctuary made for a dive experience to remember.
From journal Activities Galore