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Sea Lion Whitewater: A Guest’s Experience

Nothing makes us happier than receiving a glowing email from a past guest. Last week we received a really special email from Matt Brown. Matt was nice enough to share his amazing experience at Santa Cruz Island kayaking in a cave with his group. We thought his story was so great, we wanted to share it with everyone. Please read about  Matt’s trip to Channel Islands National Park for a day of kayaking and nature:

sea lions in channel islands

A few days ago I went out on a guided sea kayak trip to explore the caves that riddle the cliff-lined shores of Santa Cruz Island. The water was clear, the skies blue. It was a beautiful day. We had been in and out of several caverns in the first hour as our guides Kenji and Matt taught us how to time the swells and when to turn just in time so as to avoid being dashed against the barnacle encrusted walls. It was pretty sweet.
We paddled around a corner and into a bay. The cliffs were lined with gulls and cormorants and streaked with their guano. The guides paused to point out a seal lazing in the sun on a rock. We had a seen a few but were not allowed to disturb them. We had to keep our distance. They led us into a wide-mouthed cavern, out of the sun-dappled water and hundreds of feet in, into deepening shadow. As we huddled the kayaks together, Kenji told us of a secret room deeper into the cave, too small for all but one or two boats. He would take us back one at a time.

As I waited my turn, a growing disturbance outside caught my attention. The birds had become agitated. The air was filled with their cries. Back at the mouth of the cave I noted ripples in the water. Little splashes as an occasional small fish broke the surface. The ripples grew closer. In the clear water beneath my boat I could now see hundreds of the tiny fish, racing for the back of the cave. Behind them a shadow crossed the sand. It swerved, flipped, and then breached. A sea lion! Only a few yards from my kayak. I laughed, pointed. We all oohed and ahhed, no idea what was yet to come.

One became two, two four. Soon the sandy floor of the cave beneath our kayaks was obscured by feeding sea lions. A huge pod had herded a bait ball into the back of the cavern! The gentle lapping of the waves against the rocky walls became rougher. The water began to roil and surge. Soon the kayak was being tossed by the creatures, paying us no mind as they fed. Kenji shot out of the secret cavern. “Isn’t this something!” he laughed, barely able to paddle without slapping into a sea lion. We fended off the cave walls with our paddles, rode out the sea lion waves for five or ten minutes as they finished their lunch.

Soon most of them had left. Several stayed, jumping and cavorting with each other and with us. We shot in and out of the cave over and over again, racing them, racing each other; Being dashed and splashed by salt spray as they jumped and barked. Eventually they moved on, and so did we.

If there was a highlight to my Channel Islands adventure, that was it.

Photo credit: NOAA’s National Marine Service

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