Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures
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Guide to America's National Marine Sanctuaries

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Voyage to Kure
Sharks at Risk
The Gray Whale Obstacle Course
  channel islands

Return to the Amazon
Sea Ghosts: Belugas
Call of the Killer Whale

California Sea Lion

Featured Creature
California Sea Lion

Playful and intelligent, the California sea lion is a favorite of wildlife watchers, who often catch sight of them on beaches or piers. With strong, streamlined bodies, these animals are graceful swimmers but also move about quite well on land. They feed on a variety of fish, squid and shellfish. California sea lions can grow to 8 feet long and weigh up to 600 pounds. After 50 years of protection from hunting, they are plentiful in the Channel Islands, where they are especially numerous in and around the lush kelp forests. Learn more about this creature at the Encyclopedia of the Sanctuary (at

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Official Web Site (at
Shipwreck Database (at
Encyclopedia of the Sanctuary (at

CINMS was nominated for sanctuary status by the state of California in 1977 and designated a National Marine Sanctuary in 1980.

What's Underwater
A fertile combination of warm and cool currents in the sanctuary results in a great variety of plants and animals, including large nearshore forests of giant kelp, flourishing populations of fish and invertebrates, and abundant and diverse populations of cetaceans, pinnipeds and marine birds. The secluded and relatively undisturbed waters of the sanctuary also provide full- or part-time homes for several endangered species, including blue, humpback and sei whales, southern sea otters, the California brown pelican and the California least tern.


The sanctuary encompasses a variety of sensitive habitats and species, so visitors are asked to observe sanctuary regulations. The sanctuary's brochure, "Protecting Your Channel Islands," is downloadable at

Whale Watching
Join Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteers on board participating vessels and discover more than 28 species of whales and dolphins documented in the sanctuary. To learn more about scheduling a whale-watch trip with a Naturalist Corps volunteer, visit the list of participating vessels online at

Dive trips to the sanctuary are geared toward nonconsumptive use of the resources. Special trips include underwater photography workshops and fish survey trips. The best temperatures for diving occur in the summer, while the best visibility, up to 100 feet, is during late fall and early winter. More information is at

Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center
The visitor center features interpretive displays about the CINMS and the Chumash Indians. Find more information at


Research Projects
The sanctuary partners with many agencies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions and individuals to meet its research priorities. It is involved in more than 20 major monitoring projects. Research currently underway includes the following:

  • Subtidal fish and invertebrate surveys inside and outside reserve boundaries study differences between protected and nonprotected communities.
  • Deep-water habitats and communities are being examined by remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and a submersible survey.
  • Fish movement studies are conducted by tagging the fish with "pingers" and monitoring them with acoustic receivers so that scientists can determine how much the fish move and whether there is spillover from reserves.
  • The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) employs volunteer divers to survey fish populations inside and outside marine reserves.
  • Seabird biologists studying the populations of Xantus's murrelets at Anacapa Island have seen the population begin to rebound after the removal of non-native black rats on the island.
  • Ashy storm petrels are studied on Santa Cruz Island, where they nest in difficult-to-reach caves and crevices.
  • Oxnard College participated in a research project that monitors recruitment of young abalone.
  • Future Monitoring Plans: In 2005, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) were completed to, among other purposes, evaluate science and operational requirements related to NOAA's plans for marine sanctuary mapping and enforcement. Trial testing spotted California sea lions and northern elephant seals at several Channel Island locations; also, large commercial ships were spotted and successfully identified by vessel type from up to 16.1 kilometers away.

Top Challenges Facing the Sanctuary

  • Responding to increased pressures on sanctuary resources due to increasing urbanization of the mainland coast
  • Developing a water-quality monitoring and management program
  • Providing emergency response and enforcement in a remote, offshore location
  • Addressing the threat of oil and hazardous substance spills
  • Dealing with vessel groundings and accidents
  • Understanding and addressing noise impacts on sanctuary wildlife
  • Monitoring introduced species and addressing their potential impacts

Success Stories

  • The sanctuary participated in the process that led to the establishment in 2003 of a network of state marine reserves and marine conservation areas within the sanctuary boundary, encompassing over 100 square nautical miles.
  • The sanctuary acquired a 62-foot high-speed catamaran, Shearwater, used primarily as a research platform, for field trips and emergency response.
  • One hundred twenty Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteers donate more than 12,000 hours annually on public whale-watch tours and island hikes.
  • Ongoing educational outreach efforts reach more than 80,000 people per year through the distribution of publications and other products as well as through active participation in public programs, lectures and events.
  • In 2004, the sanctuary brought Multicultural Education to Resource Issues Threatening Oceans (MERITO), a bilingual outreach program, to Ventura and Santa Barbara, where approximately 34 percent of the local population is Hispanic. The program provided educational materials to more than 1,000 families in its first year alone.