Santa Catalina Island, California

Nov 18, 2019 - National Geographic Venture


We departed the dock in San Pedro and sailed into the soft evening light and weather, with the lights of the Los Angles metropolis in the background. After a gentle night crossing of the San Pedro Channel, we awoke to an absolutely perfect day at Two Harbors, Catalina Island. No wind. No clouds. Bright blue sky. Flat seas. A perfect set of conditions for the morning’s activities than included a fast and far hike, a moderate hike, kayaking, paddleboarding, and Zodiac cruising.

Those who embarked on the hikes were treated to spectacular vistas, as well as challenges to leg muscles. Those on the water, especially those who went around Bird Rock, saw two sea lions at the surface with flippers extended into the air and sun as little solar heating panels, which warmed the circulating blood before returning and warming their bodies. And of course they did what many of us do when lying in the sun…doze. Once every few minutes a head would poke up to check out the scene, then back to the nap.

Hundreds of cormorants sat like miniature sentinels on the rock, all facing the same direction, some drying out their wings after spending some time in the water. Interspersed among the cormorants were a handful of pelicans, including one out of place male who was in full breeding colors. All “dressed up,” but no one was interested because he was a few months too late! Some of the kayakers saw an adult leopard shark, a benign species that pays no attention to humans. In the water (and on the beach) were hundreds of pyrosoma, cone-shaped, colonial tunicates that normally inhabit deeper and colder water, but were probably uplifted to the surface by localized upwelling. And there were signs of giant kelp returning to the area after warm waters of the last El Niño.

After returning to National Geographic Venture, we were treated to an exquisite brunch, followed by deserts on the sun deck. Whale watching Santa Catalina recede slowly into the distance the realization became firm: This was indeed a perfect day in every respect.

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About the Author

James Coyer

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

It was Malle and Cousteau’s The Silent World, viewed in a dusty meeting hall on a wintry day in central Wisconsin that forged Jim’s dream and commitment to become a marine biologist. Never mind that he was only 8 at the time and that it would be another 13 years before he finally felt the spray of an ocean on his face.

About the Photographer

Ian Strachan

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

One steady constant in Ian’s life has been the ocean. Born by the rocky shores of mid-coast Maine, his family repatriated to far north Queensland in Australia early on in his life where he became a dual-citizen and sparked his passion for exploring new environments. Living only an hour away from the Great Barrier Reef served to direct, if not focus, the exhilaration of discovery and set him on his current path. Returning to native soil for education, Ian was fascinated by altogether too many subjects, leaving him with a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College in Psychobiology, focusing on animal behavior and perception, and with minors in Astronomy, History, and Environmental Science.

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