Yes, at one time there were abalone at Anacapa Island—abundantly. So much so that this particular dive spot gained its name from a now scarce mollusk. And, yes, they can still be seen here, but you really have to look— but don’t touch! As you know, abalone are fully protected to hopefully give them a chance to recover numbers. Just touching them can kill them. Abalone are hemophiliacs. If they are cut or damaged in any way they bleed to death.
Both black and green abalone were once seen here, and an occasional red. If you see any now it will be greens up in shallow, between 5 and 15 feet. Green abalone are distinguished by their greenish salt and pepper mantle. I have heard reports that there are black abalone here, but I have not seen them. Black abalone make their homes in subtidal water down to 10 feet deep. Their shells are smooth, black or blue in color.
Whether you see abalone or not, this is still a great dive site. The reefs are fairly shallow, running 15 to 35 feet. It is a second or third dive of the day after hitting nearby deep spots like the West End (up to 100 feet) or Coral Reef (over 100 feet).
The rocks and ridges are scattered but rise as much as 10 feet from the sand bottom. Kelp is common and healthy but because the reefs are scattered it is rarely impassable. There are some mini-walls and small overhangs creating an excellent environment for all sorts of creatures.
Clinging to the reefs are many invertebrates. Nudibranchs can be found in abundance, especially the bright blue-purple and orange Spanish shawl nudibranch. Nudibranchs are brightly colored to tell potential predators “don’t eat me, I taste bad.” Now I’ve never known anyone who has taken a bite of a nudibranch, but I will take the marine biologists’ word for it.
Chestnut cowries are beautiful and can be found here tucked into the crevices. Normally associated with the tropics, these are the only cowries found in our waters. Their shells are shiny with a rich brown color. An empty fresh shell is a nice prize for your dive but often hard to find.
Fish are abundant here as well but not of the large game fish variety. Observing and photographing small reef fish will keep you busy for the entire dive. Watch for the painted greenling and their mating dance. A female will perch on top a reef and a darker male will dance around and sometimes chase off intruders. Other small reef fish here include kelpfish, ghost gobies, and a variety of blennies.
Cruising over the reef and in the kelp the fish life is no less abundant. School of opaleye, some quite large in numbers, pass through the underwater forest late in the afternoon. Garibaldi are not lacking, adding color with their striking orange against the blue-green backdrop. Fellow fish patrolling the kelp include black perch, halfmoons, and small sheephead and calico bass.
Lobster, scallops and game fish are few and far between and small so don’t even bother. Maybe a few decades of recovery and we’ll see this area as it once was, abalone and all. But for right now, it is still a great dive.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Just east of Cat Rock on the backside of West Anacapa Island.
Access: Boat only. Lots of day boats from Ventura and S
Skill Level: All
Depths: Shallow to 40 feet
Visibility: Fair, averages 25 feet
Snorkeling: Good when calm.
Photography: Good for macro when surge is light with lot of small fish and invertebrates on the rocks. Wide angle also in kelp with schools of fish but visibility limits some.
Hunting: Prohibited — now part of the new preserve area.
Hazards: Surgy in shallow.