Shark Party

CopyRight @ 1997

Just north of Lompoc is the turnoff to Jalama Beach. The first time I went there was to meet Dale and do some diving. He said it was a neat place with big kelp beds offshore. Jalama is seven miles north of Point Conception. I figured that the area was probably only lightly dove.

Dale showed up a few hours late. Nothing unusual there. Jalama is a local park, so you cannot really get reservations for it. It does have camping and picnicking. It has quarter hot showers. I like that too. The park is in the opening of a very pretty canyon that is somewhat forested. Most of the area is coastal scrub. There is a very nice calm sandy beach, though I hear that in winter it is an area for hardy board and wind surfers. The kelp bed is a couple of hundred yards off the beach. Instead of swimming out there, I looked for the road less traveled. Up the road about a half mile before the park entrance, the road crosses the railroad tracks. At this turn is where people sometimes park to go down a surfer trail that makes it down the cliffs to the beach. This is one of those "cardiac hills".

Actually, going down was not all that bad. There was a rope that someone had put down the last steepest part. I knew that going up would be more fun. It is a nice wide beach, under a cliff that extended back to the campground. I walked about 1/4 mile east, past the first point, where there was kelp no more than 50 yards off shore. The beach seems to go on and on. It seems like the perfect beach for just walking on, but I have never had time to really explore it or see how far the beaches actually went. There were very extensive kelpbeds and I could even see one extremely large dense patty, not that fat from shore. It held no interest at the time.

Upon entry into the mild surf, I immediately got into very heavy bottom growth. The algae are extremely thick, but there seemed to be little to see in the rocks at the base. Another diver snorkeling right near shore said that he was seeing lobsters. It was not season just then. I got out to about 20 feet, before I really began diving. The large rock reefs ran parallel to the beach. There were many perch and some small rockfish. Visibility was about 15 feet. I doubt that it normally got much better. In the shallower reefs were a number of abalone. Most were short, but there were a few nice sized ones. There were also a number of colorful, immature Lingcod. The reefs were steep and undercut on the shore side. On the ocean side, they were smoother and sloped to the bottom. So diving the area was primarily a matter of following the ledges at the front of the rocks and looking for what was in them. I was taking an occasional fish and had some nice abs when two things happened at once. First off, it got very dark. Second, I noticed that I was in a large school of sharks, either small makos or else some kind of gray shark. They were from 2 to 4 feet long and a real quick count said about thirty to my left, thirty in front and many above. They were not very active and they did not seem to be paying attention to me. I figured that the darkness meant that I had swam under the thick kelp patty that I had seen from shore. I had crashed a shark party. I normally do not worry about sharks, but this is a good area to think about it. These were some really sleek sharky looking sharks. Extensive, careful analysis of all factors, said time to bug out, now. I could not go to the right without popping right up into the middle of quite a few of them. So I quickly turned around without getting out of the crack. I did not see any more sharks for the rest of the dive. They did not send out a posse. Two things I thought of. One, I wished that I had had a camera. Two, I was really tempted to reach out and grab one like I do with the horned sharks. I do not know that that would have been wise. I have no idea if I was in danger, but one of the things about solo diving, you have to cut your risks. There is no one to help you if you do get in trouble. Those were not huge sharks, but there was more of them than I have ever seen under water before.

Then comes the fun part. Grab your gear and your game and go back up the beach. Climbing that surfer trail with everything is a thrill. If there is any water, there is another problem. Much of the trail is shale and gets really slippery.

I went there a few more times. It is a long drive and a tough walk. I have usually done well on game, though the place can be rough. It has always been pretty diving with unusual species that would be expected in the Point Conception area. Few divers ever go there. Twice, friends of mine have come along to dive there. They had fun diving, though did poorly on game. I was happy to see that they both had as hard a time with the cliff as myself.

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