Sutil Pass is a narrow pinch point between two land masses—Santa Barbara Island proper and the large rock Sutil Island. Only about 600 yards separate the shorelines but the water underneath holds reefs, kelp and abundance of marine life. The pinch point is a short-cut for marine life heading around the island and there is a lot of traffic.
Like much of Santa Barbara Island, you can’t help but notice the barking of sea lions ashore. While the sea lions are not as numerous here as other parts of the island, this is an ideal spot for underwater photography of the dancing marine mammals as there is a small kelp forest close to the island that provides an excellent backdrop and clear water. The juveniles also seem friskier here than other parts of the island.
During summer and late summer bat rays accumulate in the channel, sometimes en mass. It is thought to be a mating congregation and sometimes you can catch two rays swimming in tandem through the kelp in a beautiful ballet.
In the channel the water is 30 to 70 feet deep with scattered reefs. On these reefs is a nice aggregation of marine life to please any sightseer or photographer. Often blacksmith fish seem to be like a blizzard of big black flakes twitching in the breezes. Rockfish in a variety of shapes, colors and patterns dot the reef. Kelp comes and goes on these reefs in the channel but there always seems to be kelp bass. The sand between the channels has been known to hold a good sized halibut. Hunting in this area is quite good.
And this is a decent spot for invertebrate observation. Urchins are everywhere (which could explain why the kelp is sometimes missing as urchins eat kelp). Sea stars are colorful and abundant. Nudibranchs are not prolific but present. This is a good spot for lobster.
Better yet for lobster are the wash rocks near the island. It is not unusual for a 8, 9 or 10 pounder to come out of these rocks each dive trip. You may have to contend with white water and surge but you will see lobster.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Southwest corner of Santa Barbara Island between the main island and the small islet, Sutil Island
Access: Boat only.
Depths: 20 to 70 feet
Skill Level: All
Snorkeling: Fun in kelp with sea lions near main island.
Photography: Wide-angle best in small kelp near main island for sea lion and bat ray photos. Macro fair.
Hunting: Good for lobster in and around rocks near main island. Some small lobster in reefs at center of pass. Fair to good halibut hunting in sand channels between reef in center of pass.
Hazards: Currents can come up occasionally.