Vacation Special, August 1997
Flipper ... Is That You?
North mixes with tropics in the Channel Islands' underwater bizarro world.
By Peter Taylor
To the right, a large, dark shape lingers, barely discernible in the green murk. Consider the possibilities. It's not a curious sea lion, or it would've already stormed your face mask. A great white shark would make great bar-stool fodder, but those are thin odds; people dive southern California for decades without even glimpsing one. Charlie the Tuna? Easy, man; don't lose your grip here.
Whatever it is, it's approaching. The other divers seem to have vanished. But then, adrenaline surges and otherworldly ambience are the draw in the Channel Islands, less a Disneyesque reef dive than a bushwhack through the jungle. Warm and cold currents collide here, attracting a through-the-looking-glass collection of species that rarely lurk in the same circles. Other kelp forests grow up north, and some of the same fish, invertebrates, and mammals swim farther south, but only here do they mingle.
At last, the behemoth emerges from the soup: a giant sea bass longer than you, bulkier than you (maybe two or three hundred pounds), and probably tastier, too. Gargantuan up close but a runt among its peers. Its world-record forebear, weighing in at almost 600, succumbed to a hook near Anacapa Island in the sixties. Mouth gaping and eyes bulging, this one circles around and then back for a second pass —unusual for a fish —before it slips away into the gloom. The pulse gradually slows.
Nights later come the surreal dreams, of hulking, amorphous creatures seen only out of the corner of the eye. And in the morning, musings about the ones that choose not to be seen at all.