Whaler's Middle Reef

The most commonly dived reef in Point Lobos, the middle reef, bisects the two distinct zones of Whalers Cove created by the constriction between Coal Chute Point and Cannery Point. The inner reef, composed mostly of Carmelo formation, a cobblestone conglomerate, is surrounded by several smaller reefs and rocky outcroppings, and offers Whaler's Middle Reef mapshallow, easily accessible diving, but with the tradeoff of reduced visibility and a less dense population of reef creatures.

The restricted water exchange is aggravated in the summer by the thick kelp forest, to the point where there are times when the visibility is reduced to one or two feet. In the winter, however, after the storms have ripped out the excess kelp, the water exchange and the visibility increase. As you swim north, out of the inner cove, the substrate changes to Santa Lucia Granodiorite, the granitic rock typical of Carmel Bay, and the water clarity improves, often dramatically. The better water exchange north of the two points supplies more nutrients for the reef creatures, as well as better visibility to the diver. Out here, you will find a more numerous array of reef life.

The entire reef averages 20 feet to 40 feet in depth on the top, with the deepest area being the northernmost tip of the reef, which is 45 feet deep with spires jutting up to 20 feet. The bottom of the reef is only 25 feet deep in the inner cove, and gradually increases in depth until it terminates at the north end in 70 feet of water. The shallow top offers safe depths for the beginner and opportunity for a long dive for the multi-level diver. The west side is a small wall that runs the entire length of the reef, while the rocks tumble off on the east side into the Coal Chute Cove sand channel. The entire reef is filled with pockets and crevasses that hide many rockfish and invertebrates.

Observing the crashing waves on the rocks west of the cove, it would appear that this is a heavy surge area , but subsurface Whalers Cove is protected from the prevailing swell by the submerged Cannery Point wall. Without sufficient current to tear it out, the giant kelp, Macrocystis, forest thrives here at the expense of the understory kelps and the sessile invertebrates, who do not tolerate the reduced light beneath the thick kelp canopy. This is an excellent example of a protected inner kelp forest environment. Look for abalone in the narrow crevasses. You will not find many open water invertebrates here, but there are numerous examples of filter feeders, like the sponges and bryozoans, scavengers, like the bat star and the California sea cucumber, Stichopus californicus, and numerous chitons, snails and nudibranchs, especially the common yellow, Anisodoris nobilis and Archidoris montereyensis. Many juvenile rockfish make this area their nursery. On the west wall, there are many individuals of the spotted rose anemone, Urticina lofotensis (formerly Tealia). This crimson and white-spotted anemone relies on the currents from the open ocean to carry in jellies, who, impeded by the kelp, drift down to the hungry anemones waiting on the wall below. In late summer, when there are few pelagic jellies drifting in, the spotted rose will resort to injesting fallen blades of kelp which are encrusted by the bryozoans, Membranipora and Crisia.

Tumbling rapidly from a spire that peaks at 25 ft deep, to the 750 ft deep sand channel, the north end of the reef offers the most dramatic views and topography. At the base of the rocks, in the sand, is an extensive colony of the tube building worm, Phragmatopoma, whose sandy tube colonies stabilize the flow of sand and slow down the erosion of the cove. The primary sand channel, which runs alongside the west wall, facilitates natural navigation, and is a good place to look for the moon snail, and, if you’re lucky, bat rays and leopard sharks.

By Patrick Lovejoy ©1996
map illustration by Reiko Michisaki