Saturday, May 25, 2013

When Octopus Attack...

I've been trying to write these stories for six years, and now that I'm not diving I have a little bit of free time to catch up on things.  First things first...octopus don't attack.  We've seen octopus on hundreds of dives, and we have some great stories. This is a little bit about octopus, spotting them, and a story about one of our encounters with a sleepy Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO).  

We dive a lot of locations up and down the Puget Sound, but our favorite dive sites are Redondo Beach in
Red Octopus
DesMoines, WA, and Alki in Seattle, WA.  In these two dive sites, I can guarantee an octopus sighting on every single dive, and have shared these sightings with many PADI Open Water students.  What a great way to finish your training and start your life as a recreational scuba diver.  

The Red Octopus, the smaller of the two can be found out in the open during the day and at night, you just have to know what you are looking for.  They do a great job of hiding as you approach and then pass over them, so the easiest way to spot them is to move slowly, and then casually sweep your flashlight side to side over the ground you just passed over.  Once you spot your first red octopus, the rest will become easier to spot.  

The Red Octopus in the photo above was taken at Redondo Beach during the day, and was about the size of a football.  We spotted this one in around twenty feet of water.

Squid Eggs
Photo by Maynee Desandies
Here's another trick.  If you dive any site and come across squid eggs, you can be sure that the squid parents are somewhere close.  Continue to scuba beyond the eggs until you look back and can barely see the eggs.  Find something to do to stay warm while you wait for the squid to return.  Fifteen to thirty seconds later, the parents will reappear, and then you can slowly move back to get a better look at the family.

As long as you approach slowly, keeping you lights pointed in the direction of the eggs, you won't spook the parents, and they will regale you with some beautiful displays of color changes and water dances.  They are brave creatures, and seem to be mesmerized by a diver's lights.

Giant Pacific Octopus
Getting back to the octopus story...The second type of octopus you'll find in the Puget Sound is the Giant Pacific Octopus.  The photos on the right were taken at around 7:00 am on a dive at Redondo Beach.  This GPO can be found under a boat that rests in about 40 to 60 feet of water, depending on the tide.  Can you see the slightly open eye in the photo on the right?

We've seen this octopus hundreds of times, but always under the small boat where she has dug out a large den to rest when she's not out gathering her meals.  Steve and I really wanted to see this octopus out in the open.  According to National Geographic, GPO's unt primarily at night, so we started a several month adventure to try to find her out in the open.  

We started diving every Friday night at different hours of the night and eventually every hour of the morning on Saturday's.  There were several dives where we found her den empty, but we were never able to spot her out in the open, so I had to settle for under the boat photos.  

You can clearly see how long her tentacles are, and how large her suckers are.  She is a calm, gentle octopus, and seems to handle annoying divers and their flashlights well.  

Giant Pacific Octopus
On this particular dive, we were excited because it looked like she had just returned to her den.  She was hanging out near the opening, close enough for us to reach out and touch her if we decided to be dumb enough to do that.  Instead, I backed up a bit and started taking these photos.  She was extremely active, moving every tentacle non-stop.  

Suddenly, and lighting fast, she reached out and grabbed my camera, almost pulling it out of my hand.  I wasn't too worried about it, the camera housing was too large to be dragged under the boat, and my left hand was covering the housing latch.  However, a moment later I could see I was in for an unexpected treat.  Still holding my camera with one tentacle, she had flanked me on my right with another tentacle.  I felt something on my face and could see her tentacle checking me out.  I bit down hard on my regulator, and grabbed my mask with my right hand.

What seemed like five minutes was over seconds later.  After showing me she was the boss, she retreated into her den to settle in for the day.  I've taken dozens of photos of her, but the photos I took on this dive were by far the most memorable.