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Alert Diver is the dive industry’s leading publication. Featuring DAN’s core content of dive safety, research, education and medical information, each issue is a must-read reference, archived and shared by passionate scuba enthusiasts. In addition, Alert Diver showcases fascinating dive destinations and marine environmental topics through images from the world’s greatest underwater photographers and stories from the most experienced and eloquent dive journalists in the business.

DIVE SLATE KELP

DIVE SLATE KELP PADDIES kelp. The adult form of this rockfish is found in very deep water from 700 to 1,500 feet. Drifting kelp may also be an important habitat for the juvenile stage of the California yellowtail, halfmoon and other species of fishes. Marine scientists sampling kelp paddies have found more than 25 different species of fishes amid kelp paddies, with most of the species consisting entirely of juveniles. You never know what you are going to see under the kelp; populations vary from year to year and area to area. An area of 65°F water may have a completely different set of animals than an area of 72°F water just five miles away. That’s what makes kelp paddies so interesting. The recent warm years have brought smooth hammerhead sharks, blue marlin, bluefin tuna, false orcas and many other species that were rare in previous years. Until the summer of 2014, for example, wahoo had never been documented in California waters, but in the strong 2015 El Niño event, more than 1,000 wahoo were caught in California waters by sport fishermen. MOLA MOLA Kelp paddies are absolutely the best place to find Mola mola. Molas, which come to the drifting kelp to be cleaned by the halfmoon fish, are loaded with parasites, both externally and internally. We saw one mola that was particularly undisturbed by diver presence and were able to pull out parasitic copepods deeply embedded in its skin. The fish actually seemed to enjoy the encounter. It is not unusual to see up to three molas on a drifting kelp. My personal record from a few years ago was 50 adult molas on a single kelp paddy. They are generally wary of photographers approaching them at the surface or from underwater. A diver in a black wetsuit looks like a sea lion to the mola. I have seen sea lions tear apart molas, so it is important to approach slowly and not aggressively. Some molas may not care much about an approaching diver, but it is more common for them to swim away. 20 | FALL 2016

Seagulls perch on a drifting kelp paddy off Santa Barbara Island during the 2015 El Niño. Below left: Kelp paddies are great places to find ocean sunfish (Mola mola). Below right: Diving kelp paddies can be very rewarding; you never know what you’ll see. Scuba Diving • PADI Dive Courses • Liveaboard Kayaking • Snorkeling Tours •Land Tours DIVING KELP PADDIES Kelp paddies are best dived by live boating, with a driver staying aboard. Tying up to the kelp usually pulls it apart, and anchoring or mooring is impossible because of the water depth (typically 1,000 to 3,000 feet). Stay aware because fishermen looking for pelagic gamefish also target kelp paddies. On a few occasions I’ve seen fishermen cast jigs at the drifting kelp with divers in the water. For this reason the vessel should fly a dive flag, and the boat driver should carefully monitor the location of the kelp and the divers at all times. It is also best to live boat upwind of the divers. Weather can change quickly, and a vessel that gets downwind and loses power could become a liability for a diver who has to swim and catch up to the rapidly disappearing vessel. With only a speck of brown for reference against a vast blue background, it is easy for the boat driver to lose visual on a kelp paddy. Taking this into account, divers should carry a surface marker buoy, whistle, strobe and a diver’s emergency position indicating radiobeacon (EPIRB) of some sort. In recent years crews have filmed the kelp paddy story for IMAX, BBC, National Geographic and Silverback Films. My most memorable filming project of a kelp paddy was one in which Howard Hall coordinated our five-man crew underwater to position a 1,400-pound IMAX 3-D camera with cable lights to successfully film multiple Mola mola at a cleaning station. Finding and exploring kelp paddies takes some time and effort, but it’s worth it to see what lies beneath them. AD reservations@samstours.com Tel: +(680) 488-1062 ALERTDIVER.COM | 21