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In many ways, diving in the San Benito Islands is not all that different than diving in Southern California's Channel Islands -- 40 or 50 years ago! It's not so much that you tend
Common Dolphin
Delphinus delphis
to see a lot of species that you won't encounter in th Channel Islands, it's that in the San Benitos you encounter similar species in simply astounding abundance. Located approximately 275 miles south of San Diego and 50 miles west of the Baja penninsula, the San Benito Islands offer what can accurately be deemed the next level of kelp forest diving.

As one might imagine, there is a price to pay to dive such a great distance
California Sheephead
Semicossyphus pulcher
from home port. As is the case with Cocos Island, the price is a very long boat ride. Getting to the San Benitos requires approximately 25-30 hours, certainly too long for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach. However, those willing to endure the long trip are rewarded with some truly outstanding diving.

As no more than a few hundred divers visit the islands each year, the underwater scenery is amazingly pristine. Frequent encounters with large gamefish such as Yellowtail (Seriola lalandi),
Bat Ray
Myliobatis californica
Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) and Yellowfin Tuna (Thunnus albacares) make the area one of the absolute best locations in North America, if not the world, for freediving spearfishing.

Of the few divers that annually visit the islands, less than half dive on scuba. This means that the reefs and macro life are that much more untouched. Gorgeous nudibranchs like Felimare ghiselini (Felimare ghiselini), Porter's Chromodorid (Mexichromis porterae), Navanax (Navanax inermis) and Three Lined Aeolid (Flabellina trilineata) can be found on most dives. Also frequently encountered are California Scorpionfish (Scorpaena
Three Lined Aeolid
Flabellina trilineata
guttata
) and Red Gorgonian (Lophogorgia chilensis).

California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) and Bat Rays (Myliobatis californica) can be found on virtually every dive zipping through the kelp. There are few experiences in diving as exhilarating, or for that matter heart-stopping, as turning to say something to your buddy on a night dive only to realize that your buddy is in reality a 200 lb. sea lion!

Another species seen on almost every dive is the California Spiny Lobster
California Sea Lion
Zalophus californianus
(Panulirus interruptus). Hiding out in their holes by day, these tasty critters wander around by the thousands at night taunting you with the fact that Americans are only allowed to spearfish, and not collect shellfish, in Mexican waters. Also commonly encountered on San Benitos night dives are Shovelnose Guitarfish (Rhinobatos productus).

While the Channel Islands offer virtually all of the same species as the San Benitos, though generally not in such astounding abundance, there is no avoiding the fact that the tens of thousands of divers that visit the Channel Islands annually negatively impact the area. For a taste of what the Channel Islands diving pioneers experienced 50 years ago, look no further than Baja's San Benitos!