Aanacapa | Santa Cruz and Channel Islands

Oct 06, 2019 - National Geographic Sea Lion

Sailing out of the Port of Los Angeles into the sunset on Saturday evening with hundreds of common dolphins pausing in their feeding frenzy to play at our bow, we settled into the evening anticipating continued excitement in the days ahead.

All aboard National Geographic Sea Lion woke to calm seas and the steady beam of a light station marking the rugged piecewise island in the distance that would be our first destination.

Arriving at Anacapa Island, we were greeted by even more common dolphins who were joined by brown pelicans diving into the waters, likely after the same food that is abundant in the productive waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. At just over one square mile in area Anacapa is the second smallest of the Channel Islands that lie off the coast of California and yet in just a short walk along the dramatic coastline, it tells visitors a remarkable story. Just over 20 miles from the mainland, as we stepped foot on the isolated landscape, we quickly felt worlds away.

Despite its small size, the island has a surprisingly high number of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.  A brief chat with the national park ranger stationed on the island highlighted some of the challenges of making a living, such as limited water and exposure, that have not only shaped the plants and animals endemic to the island but still persist for life here today.

We left with stunning views of the surrounding seas and of the islands that lie Westward we have yet to explore. It was a fantastic introduction to the remarkable story of isolation, disturbance and recovery that make these islands “treasures in the sea.”

From Anacapa, we sailed west toward Santa Cruz Island and chose to navigate along the northern coast to find an anchorage that would allow small boat and kayak operations. It didn’t take long before we were craning our necks to gaze in awe at juxtaposed igneous and sedimentary rock formations that were a testament to the complex geologic history of these islands. In turn, everyone was temporarily drawn away from the cliffs out into the channel toward yet another common dolphin feeding frenzy! Surrounded by splashing and surprise up-close encounters with these energetic and curious mammals, we couldn’t help but laugh and smile with delight.

Once the dolphins settled and the light began to fade, we returned to the rocky outcrops to enjoy one last glimpse of the remote coastline, reflecting on an incredible start to our journey and looking forward to the days ahead.

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About the Author

Chelsea Behymer


Raised sea kayaking, surfing, and hiking on the Central Coast of California, Chelsea established both curiosity and comfort in her outdoor surroundings early on. After a field ecology course in California's Channel Islands exposed her to the dynamic roles people can play in social-ecological systems, she embarked on a lifelong journey to understand her place. Chelsea received her Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology from Hawaii Pacific University where she dove (literally) into coral reef research and explored the micro-scale connections within. Taking her knowledge from the research field, Chelsea has spent nearly a decade professionally communicating the big-picture implications of the 'little things' in variety of marine science and natural history topics onboard marine tour vessels around the globe.

About the Videographer

Ashley Karitis

Video Chronicler

Ashley was raised in Central Oregon where she spent her childhood ski racing, riding horses, playing classical piano, and working summer jobs on a dude ranch. She then attended the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles earning degrees in cinema-television, history, and international relations. Although immersed in the studies of narrative filmmaking, she gravitated toward the process, deeper on-camera conversations, and scientific and human themes explored in documentary production.

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