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Me diving

Friday, July 26, 2019

Rob's Birthday Weekend, Part 1: Italian Ledge

Flag rockfish!
We've been trying to dive Italian Ledge since 2010.  One time (I think in the summer of 2010), we had a boat/crew arranged and I sprained my ankle a few days before the dive.  Another time much more recently (I think it was 2015), we actually made it out to the site, but it was just too rough, so we bailed.  There were several other times when we had boat and crew arranged but cancelled because of weather.  So, when Rob said he'd talked Jim into taking us out on his birthday, and that we would shoot for Italian Ledge, I was not optimistic.  But I went along with it.  We discussed gas plans and deco plans (and Rob once again proved that he doesn't know how to plan deco).  Leading up to the day, the forecast looked bizarre.  The wind didn't look too bad from a wind speed perspective (10 to 15 knots) but the wind wave forecast was bad (5 to 6 foot wind waves).  This has been happening a lot recently, to the point where I suspect something has changed in the model NOAA uses.  The swell looked good and flat though.

Greenstriped rockfish
We met at the luxuriously late time of 8:30 at K-dock, though it didn't feel as luxurious as it should since we arrived in Monterey at 10PM the night before.  Joakim was kind enough to play crew for us.  We loaded the boat and got going.  It was flat.  Not lake flat, but very comfortably flat.  We got out to the site and there was a lot of circling around.  Between Rob's and Jim's GPS units, there were multiple numbers.  But we found the right one on the depth sounder and dropped the ball.  It had a lot of line on it.  I asked if it looked like there was current on the line and it looked like there was no current.

Yelloweye rockfish
We jumped into the water and when I looked down the vis looked great but a little green. We headed down the line, which was straight up and down, since there was no current. Around 20 feet we encountered a murky layer, which persisted down to maybe 100 feet. I think it opened up a bit there, but it was hard to tell because it was dark deeper than that.  It got quite dark on the way down.  And it seemed like we were going down that line forever.  Around 190', there were suddenly fish.  A lot of fish, mostly olives.  And before you know it, we could see the top of the reef at 250'.

Mystery sponge
As far as I know, Italian Ledge is mostly known for its fish life.  So that's what we were expecting to see.  We immediately saw a few different kinds of interesting deep fish, like some big yelloweyes and several starries.  We saw a lot of starries throughout the dive.  The reef was more interesting than I expected (since I expected it to be not at all interesting).  It was like a dive in the bay (Corynactis, metridium in some spots) but with more relief, since the site goes from about 250' to about 300'.  There were also a bunch of vase sponges, and some yellow sponges that kind of reminded me of vase sponges, but they were shaped like more shapely vases, that flair out at the top.  There was a small school of fish hanging around near the top of the structure, which included several bocaccio.

Basket stars
We started to head down deeper, but before we did, we passed a little ledge right before the reef dropped off that had eight or so basket stars in a 10 square foot area.  It was the most basket stars I've ever seen on one dive in the Monterey area before.  But we saw lots more basket stars throughout the dive, I'd guess at least 20 basket stars over the whole dive.  As we headed down to the sand, we stopped to look at a spot with a couple more basket stars and some crinoids.  And while Rob was looking at this, I noticed that right next to us was a purple sea fan!  It was kind of bent over and looked like it wasn't feeling super awesome.  Not sure if something was actually wrong with it or if it was just growing at a strange angle.

Purple sea fan (and greenspotted rockfish)
We continued out over the sand where we saw lots more crinoids (and basket stars) and we came across our first flag rockfish.  Yay!  If you've read much of my blog, you probably know that I'm somewhat obsessed with flag rockfish.  I wasn't necessarily expecting to see them here, but I wasn't surprised either.  Once we swam around that area a bit, we came across a few more flag rockfish, probably a total of four, ranging in size from pretty small to what I think of as normal full-sized flaggy (based on the ones we've seen at Birthday Wall and Consolation Prize). 

From there, we headed back up the slope a bit shallower and looked at the other fish that were around.  There were a lot of really big lingcod.  In fact I think all of the lingcod that we saw on the dive could be described as really big.  There were also quite a few more starries and a variety of young of year, including yelloweyes, pygmies, and squarespots.  We saw one rockfish that looked unlike any others, and I had no idea what it was -- which was apparently a greenstriped rockfish (thanks to Milton Love and Tom Laidig for helping us to ID some fish).  One other cool find (after the fact) was that the little rosy-looking rockfish (there were a lot of rosies too, or fish that looked like rosies anyway) next to the purple sea fan was a young greenspotted rockfish.  That is a new one for me.  Or maybe not... maybe I've seen them before and thought they were all rosies.  Apparently there are a bunch of rosy lookalike species.

Juvenile yelloweye rockfish
By this point, it was time to get a bit shallower, so we headed up the structure and over to a patch of metridium, and watched some bocaccio and some more BIG lingcod.  As it was just about time to go, a bocaccio swam by, but there was something odd about it.  It had some big black splotches on its side near the back of its body.  I didn't know what that was, but the fish was not cooperative for a photo, and we were out of time.  I described this to Milton Love who said it is melanism, a form of non-fatal skin cancer (Figure 1 of this document has a pretty good picture of it).  So I thumbed the dive to Rob and we started our ascent while he got out his bag and worked on attaching that to the reel.  We paused at 230' so he could put up the bag and then continued up to 190' for our first deep stop.

Starry rockfish
The deco was pretty uneventful, though I would call it "arduous" because it was just so long.  When we got to 70', I realized we'd left the bottom over 25 minutes ago and yet it felt like we were just about to start our deco.  Luckily when we got to the murky layer, the water warmed up, and then at 20 or 30', it really warmed up.  Before we got into the water, there was a lot of bird activity near where we dropped, and there were whale watching boats not that far away.  So I was half expecting to see a whale swim by on deco.  That didn't happen, but while we were at 20', a squid swam by just below us.  Then a few minutes later, he swam by again.  And then again.  So he kept us somewhat entertained during our long (35 minute) 20' stop.  Even though it was substantially warmer at 20 feet (my gauge had 55 degrees, so it was probably 56 or 57), by the end of the stop, I was starting to get cold again.

When we surfaced, the water was lake flat.  On the way back to the harbor, I made Rob a cup-o-noodles for his birthday :P After we got back to K-dock and packed things up (but not really, since we left most of our gear on the boat for tomorrow's charter), we went to lunch at Little Chicken House 🤮

I managed to smoosh a lot of Rob's pictures from the dive in here, but there are a few more on the BAUE gallery.

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