Sharkbite Rock gets its name from the rock formations on the hill above the water, looking much like a shark taking a bite out of the hillside. That is one thing that Catalina Island has, rock formations, plenty of them—both above and below the water line. Sharkbite Rock is near the dive site Italian Gardens and has much of the same underwater topography.
The area is filled with larger boulders of all types and sizes. Creating mini reefs surrounded by large areas of sand. These mini reefs supply the kelp with sturdy anchors and in turn the kelp supplies the marine life with plenty of homes.
The kelp and boulder formations can be found as shallow as 15 feet, and you can find yourself as deep as 90 feet. Though there might be only one reason to find yourself this deep—giant black sea bass.
The giant black sea bass have been found hanging out here and at Italian Gardens. Though they used to be found primarily in the summer months, they are now staying around most of the time, though in the winter you’ll be likely to find them in deeper waters.
On a particular dive in early fall we found at least six giant black seabass, varying in size from two feet in length to five feet. The would slowly swim from reef to reef staying in the 65-foot range. If you slowly approached them they will allow you to move right up to them, close enough to see the parasites living on their skin and actually in their eyes. Our young newly certified son was so excited that he could not hold still. His erratic movements would send the blacks off to the next reef formation, though they never did swim very fast or far. We were able to either swim after them, or sit still and they would return within a minute or two.
As many as 20 animals have been seen at this location at one time. No one is quite sure why they congregate here but there are some ideas. Sometimes they seem to pair off, but no mating activity has ever been observed. This big fish’s favorite food—small barracuda, squid and other bait fish—do not seem to be in large supply and little feeding activity takes place here. What has been observed is “cleaning.” The big fish move in slowly and allow señoritas and small sheephead to pick the abundant parasites from their massive bodies. This could be the reason they seem to be so relaxed and are easy to approach.
During warmer weather, the blacks will move in shallower and may be found hovering in the water column among the kelp fronds. One dive last summer found them in 30 feet of water. Though this is a great place to see the giant black seabass, it is not the only thing to see here. If you miss them, focus on the multitude of sea life living in the kelp, on the reefs and in the sand.
As usual you will see lobster living in the cracks and crevices of the boulders. Lobster trapping is illegal on the frontside, so there will be more and larger lobster found here. Needless to say, pay careful attention to the fish and game laws and seasons.
Large hornsharks can be found resting on the bottom of the reefs. Rarely out swimming freely, you might find one tucked into a hole alongside a moray eel. All the more reason to be especially careful while looking for lobster.
Sitting on the ledges and quickly darting in and out of your camera lenses is the colorful blue-banded goby. Bright red and blue stripes stand out on the tiny two inch long fish. If you try to focus on them for photos, it is best to locate one and sit very still until they move into your camera range. Don’t try to move into their space and expect them to sit still.
The reefs are covered with kelp, some areas more thick than others. There is talk from scientists that another El Niño is in the horizon for Pacific waters. Should that happen the kelp will start getting thinner and thinner and may disappear completely from areas such as these. What effect it will have on the blacks is uncertain. We must chalk it all up to the ever-changing face of the powerful ocean that nature gives us, including the fact that the black sea bass is back from wherever they may have been and regular sightings are frequent. And not just at the islands either. Blacks are starting to be seen on a regular basis on coastal dives as well.
Sharkbite Rock is another of Catalina’s many beautiful dive sites that may have one specific focus, the giant sea bass, but it gives way to all the other typical sites Catalina waters have to offer.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Frontside of Catalina Island, just west of Long Point, about half way between Long Point and the dive site known as Italian Gardens. Look for dark rock formation on the cliff face.
Access: Boat only.
Skill Level: All with good conditions.
Depths: 15 to 90 feet.
Visibility: Very good.
Hunting: Fair for lobster.
Photography: Excellent wide angle in the kelp with clear water and giant sea bass. Fair macro of small reef fish.
Special Interest: Giant black sea bass.
Hazards: Sometimes strong currents, boat traffic.