Every good fish story starts with a fire alarm.
On Saturday morning at 5am a resident of our 73 unit building thought it would be a great prank to pull the fire alarm. As such, we got a late start on the drive south to Orange County. We didn’t get out on the beach until about 1:30, which is plenty late considering the sun is lower in the sky earlier now in mid-October.
Our last visit, in September, produced something spectacular: my first live in-the-wild octopus sighting. Because of that, I imagined this visit wouldn’t be as exciting. However, the waves were low and the water very clear – albeit 3-4 degrees colder than a month ago, so no reason not to try.
As soon as I put my mask on and swam past the break I looked down and saw the usual dinner-plate-sized round stingrays all over the place.
However, looming next to them was a large gray bat ray.
This was the largest bat ray I’d ever seen and it occurred to me then that I may never have seen a fully grown one before as this is the latest in the year we’ve ever snorkeled in SoCal.
I followed this large bat ray for a few minutes until he swam right by another one. Wow, two of the largest bat rays I’ve ever seen. These things had at least a three-foot wingspan and head the size of a toddler. Small as far as mammals go in general I suppose, but the vast majority of bat rays I’ve seen in California are gold-colored and maybe a two-foot wingspan.
After both of them sped away I set my sights on another octopus. The tide was very low so it was easier to see the cliff-tops out by Twin Points. I ended up swimming out farther into the ocean than ever before (at this spot), but still no octopus.
What I did see, however, is a little itty bitty sea slug with neon orange spots.
After giving up on seeing octopus it was nearly 4pm and the light was fading in water deeper than a few feet, so I headed close to shore, thinking maybe I’d get lucky and see another juvenile leopard shark.
At first, I found many large California halibut.
One with a child following it around. This is in addition to the regular-sized round sting-rays, which were scattered all over.
A bit later I saw a baby flounder by itself, much cuter than the monster-mouth adults.
I dove down several times to take photos of this little fellow. Because it was so young I don’t think it was as scared of me, so it didn’t swim away at first. This allowed me to notice….another giant bat ray sitting in the sand a few feet away.
I discovered a conglomeration of fish feeding on smaller fish (and other things I suppose) churned up by the breaking waves close to shore.
Ordinarily swimming in this area would be a bit (or a lot) dangerous depending on the size of the waves and the force so this activity is more or less invisible to snorkelers. The waves were only two to three feet high on this day, so as long as I paid attention to the breaks and didn’t get tossed I’d be okay.
I skimmed along the backside of the breaks trying to get interesting photos of all the fish “surfing” the churn. I was slowly heading south parallel to the shore and ended up at the rock jetty at the other end and the little inlet between it and the patch of rocks and seagrass on the south end of the beach.
When I tipped my head up over a sand bar in about two feet of water I was surprised to find multiple juvenile leopard sharks darting about just feet from shore.
Then a wave hit me and tossed me. Not really that dangerous, mind you, I could have just stuck my feet in the sand and stood up, but it spooked the leopard sharks. They mostly disappeared by the time the sand cleared out of the water again.
I followed one into the seagrass-covered-rocks that extended up out of the water at the other end. I floated just inches over the grass, steadying myself against the waves breaking over me every ten seconds or so, and hunted.
A few times I managed to catch the rascals looking around to see if the coast was clear.
As it was nearly 4:30 by then the water was getting colder and the tide retreating further, making the wave action more violent. I had to get out and search for finds in the tide pools. In the few minutes on shore I found many crabs and sea anemones, but little else.