Dropping down through the 60-foot visibility, I was not really paying attention where I was going and almost landed on top of the lingcod, one of my favorite fish in California. If for no other reason than this, West End Cove is becoming one of my favorite dive sites at Anacapa Island. Every time I have dived West End Cove I have encountered one or more lingcod.
For lack of a better way of putting it, I find lingcod a “fun” fish for photography. Some people describe them as “ugly.” I find them fascinating. Their heads seem disproportionately large compared to their slender, elongated body. They are almost eel-like. With a mouth in a constant frown and slightly open, it is easy to get a photo of a mouth full of sharp teeth. The lingcod’s scientific name, Ophiodon elongatus, as a matter of fact, means “snake tooth.”
I continued on my dive to find two more lingcods perched on the reef no doubt waiting for a meal to venture too close. But that was not the only fascinating fish I was to see on this dive. Descending to where the reef meets the sand at 65 feet, I ventured out onto the flats to see what could be lurking in the mud. I was not disappointed. Not far from the reef was a torpedo ray (Torpedo californica) also known as the Pacific electric ray. This one was lounging in the sand, partially covered. As indicated by its name, this ray can generate some significant voltage. To provoke it to swim, I gently prodded it with my fin and off it went. It turned and then came right back at me. While they are not an aggressive fish, they have no fear of divers and will often swim right at you. Do not touch them! They can pack quite an electric bang.
While fish abundance is only fair here, for variety this is one of the better sites at Anacapa Island. In addition to the creatures mentioned above look for large calico bass “holed-up” in the some of the deeper crevices and small caves. Rockfish perch up on strategically located rock outcroppings. Painted greenlings dart about across the reef. Then there are the ubiquitous sheephead, señoritas, and garibaldi, all in plentiful supply. Anacapa falls in a “mixing zone” of cold and temperate water species and the West End is one of the best places to experience the variety of fish this mixing brings.
Another thing that makes this site truly special are the gardens of gorgonian sea fans. They are both abundant and colorful. My favorite is the deep rich color of the purple gorgonian (Eugorgia rubens). Carry a light with you to bring out the most vibrant of colors and detail. While this is a small gorgonian compared to its cousins, the largest specimens in the Channel Islands are found here. Providing additional colors to the spectrum is a golden gorogonian and red gorgonian (actually appearing pink because of the white polyps). Some of the stands of gorgonian you will find will be a fuzzy yellow. This is actually not part of the gorgonian animal but a parasitic anemone known as zoanthid (Parazoanthus lucificum).
Much of the animal diversity here is owed to prolific currents and upwelling. Lying at the extreme west end of the Anacapa the location is subject to frequent and strong currents. Some of this can be avoided by anchoring close to the island, but this can be a challenge and best left to only the most experienced skippers. Be sure to use good current diving techniques here.
Effects of the current are most pronounced the further you move to the west, so use caution in that direction. A benefit of frequent currents is consistently good visibility. Water clarity here is generally around 50 feet but can easily reach 100 feet. Kelp growth is usually light, so it is common to anchor up and look down and see the reefs 60 feet below.
The West End Cove at Anacapa is not really much of a cove but really just a notch in the side of the island. It is a good place, however, to tuck in out of the frequent northwest winds. There is extensive diving all along this side of the island with many dive sites to choose from. Spend a day diving the west end of Anacapa and you will not be disappointed.
Special thanks to the dive charter boat Peace (www.peaceboat.com) for help in creating this article.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: On the backside (south) of the extreme west end of Anacapa Island. GPS N34°00.733′, W119°26.570′ (GPS coordinates for reference only. Do not use as your sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only. Lots of excellent dive charter boat frequent this location (see list below).
Skill level: All levels if currents are calm or mild, otherwise intermediate of better.
Depths: 10 to 70 feet.
Visibility: Very good. Averages 50 feet but often much better.
Photography: Lots of variety of fish species with good gorgonian backgrounds.
Hunting: Most lingcods too small. Some big calicos. A few scallops and lobster.