winter solstice, mutonia, australia

Bug Hunting

...got 'em!

Bug hunting, or lobster hunting, is something that I’ve wanted to do for many years – ever since seeing lobsters underwater while diving in California and coming back to a boat that had large, empty lobster tanks. Finally the stars aligned, and over Halloween weekend, Jimmy, Jeremy, and I participated in our first bug hunting adventure. We joined a 2-day live aboard organized by Channel Islands Dive Adventures on the Peace Boat (both excellent operations). Our planned destination was the remote San Nicholas Island, where bug hunting was rumored to be exceptional due to the few boats that travel there. When we boarded the Peace, though, we learned that the island was closed by the military and we would instead be diving the island of Santa Barbara.

Over 6 dives on Santa Barbara throughout the first day, the diving and bug hunting was in large part a disappointment. Santa Barbara is known for its great underwater visibility, but unfortunately the strange weather patterns that California has experienced throughout the year had clouded the water – at times the visibility was only about 15 feet. Additionally, the water was unseasonably cold, and as such, the lobsters were not to be found at their usual depths, which made finding bugs more difficult than it should have been.

That being said, the night dive on Halloween (and the 6th dive for Jimmy and me on the trip thus far) changed the course of the ship (literally). The dive itself was incredible (my first night dive in California), the water seemed warm, and I even caught a bug (too small to keep, though). We also received our fair share of Halloween spooks, when sea lions would rapidly swim into the light cast by our flashlights and back out of it again. After the dive, the captain of the Peace decided to cut our losses on Santa Barbara and over the night we sailed to the island of Santa Cruz.

The captain made the right choice, since one could not have asked for better conditions for our three morning dives on Santa Cruz – the sun was shining, the temperature was in the 70s, the seas were calm, and, most importantly, there were bugs on the sea floor. It was at Santa Cruz where Jimmy, Jeremy, and I each caught ourselves a keeper (with many more caught that were just under the limit and therefore had to be released).

The hunt itself was quite exciting… Jeremy, Jimmy, and I dove as a team, and as we swam a bearing away from the boat, we would comb the sea floor looking for bugs. When one of us found a bug, we would signal the others and try to retrieve it. Since lobsters usually hide under rocks, the key is to not hesitate, lest they move further back into their hole, making it more difficult to grab ’em. The retrieval involves simply getting a good grip on the lobster, either at the base of the feelers or by grabbing the carapace (upper shell). (Since the lobsters we were hunting were California Spiny Lobsters, we didn’t have to worry about claws.) Once one of us had a lobster, somebody else would measure the lobster with their lobster gauge, and if the lobster was a keeper (i.e., the carapace measured longer than 3 1/4 inches), we would bag it and bring it to the surface at the end of the dive.

Usually after a diving trip, we go home to cleanup and relax. However, since we had three lobsters to cook after this trip, we went to Jimmy’s and cooked up a delicious feast. Overall it was an incredible experience and a great success for our first trip hunting bugs – I look forward to the next bug hunting expedition!

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