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Catalina underwater — while staying dry

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One of the first things visitors notice when they disembark from the boat to Catalina Island is the crystal clear water. It’s no wonder. Catalina’s underwater visibility frequently stretches 100 feet and the fascinating denizens of the sea are immediately apparent even from the boat dock.

Bright orange garibaldi are often the first fish spotted, but opaleye, sheepshead, kelp bass and more are often seen just by glancing down. There are plenty of ways to get a better look – whether you want to stay dry or not. In this post we’ll show you how to stay dry and peer beneath the waves.

One of the oldest ways to see Catalina’s undersea gardens is via glass bottom boats. These clever inventions were actually developed on the island more than a century ago by intrepid fishermen who determined they could make more money by putting a pane of glass in the bottom of a row boat and charging a fee to Catalina tourists. Today’s glass bottom boats accommodate many more passengers, but the concept is the same – peer through the glass to see beneath the sea.

Taking the glass bottom boat concept a step further is the Catalina Undersea Expedition. Specially designed semi-submersible vessels allow you to sit below the waterline and look out portals into the depths. Although the vessel is reminiscent of a submarine, it doesn’t actually descend, but explorers can comfortably see out, enjoying the spectacle of marine life.

Both the Glass Bottom Boat Voyage and the Catalina Undersea Expedition ply the gentle waters of the Lovers Cove Marine Preserve, where generations of fish have come to anticipate the free meals dispersed by the vessels. Nearly tamed, the fish surround the vessels and erupt into a fascinating feeding frenzy when the Catalina tour boats distribute pellets of fish food.

Marine explorers can anticipate seeing a range of fishes, including bat rays, garibaldi, kelp bass and more.

a group of people on a boat

Glass bottom boats have been plying Catalina’s waters for more than 100 years.