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Giant Pacific Octopus on Eggs by Steve Zedekar
Spring in the Pacific Northwest means that our female giant Pacific octopus are tending to their eggs. Divers can see this behavior at many of our most popular dive sites, including Redondo Beach, Three Tree Point, and Alki Seacrest Park (Cove 2).
The giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), also known as the North Pacific giant octopus is the largest species of octopus in the world and can weight up to 150 pounds and can have an arm span up to 20 feet. The largest ever measured weighed about 600 pounds and stretched 30 feet across! Unfortunately, they are also short lived with a life span of 2-3 years.
After about two years, the female will seek out a male for her one time to reproduce and lay eggs. Once she finds a male, he will deposit a sperm packet into the female’s mantle. The female will then store the sperm packet until she is ready to fertilize eggs. The Seattle Aquarium has observed a female waiting seven months between mating and laying fertilized eggs. A typical female giant Pacific octopus can lay between 120,000 and 400,000 eggs.
Once the eggs have been laid, the female attaches them to a hard surface. She continuously blows nutrient rich water over the eggs, fanning and grooming them to remove algae and other growths. While she is tending to her eggs (typically around 6 months) the does not leave the den to hunt or eat. After the incubation period, the eggs hatch and tiny baby giant Pacific octopus leave the nest to and begin a period where they float freely in the ocean.
For the female giant Pacific octopus, she will die shortly after her eggs hatch. In the video below, skip to about 0:35 seconds to see a female tend and groom her eggs.
Our last full weekend in February featured lots of happy divers and some of the highest tides of the year, also called a “King Tide”.
Tides are the vertical movement of water across Earth’s surface caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces of the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of Earth which manifest in the local rise and fall of sea levels. Tides are driven by the relative positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun, the orbits of various planets, land formations, and relative location on Earth. In the lunar month, the highest tides occur roughly every 14 days, at the new and full moons, when the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun are in alignment. King tides are the very highest tides in the year and are naturally occurring, predictable events.
The king tides in Seattle on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday last weekend were each over 13 feet, 3 feet higher than a normal high tide. King tides in previous years have been over 14.5 feet! Luckily, we had no storms or high wind to push the tides up even further. Next we’ll have to wait until early July to see some of the lowest tides of the year- perfect for combing tide pools.
Our divers didn’t seem to mind the king tides as we had flat, calm water and clear visibility to make for great diving and wildlife viewing. On Friday, we had Chase & Riley from Eastern Washington & Montana come out to try scuba diving with a PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience. Then we David from Los Angeles try a night dive Friday evening. Saturday we had David again plus Stephan from the United Kingdom for our Saturday guided dive tour. Sunday we had Colleen Norcott and her son, Kendall both our for a scuba refresher. My favorite memory of the weekend was hearing Kendall underwater on Sunday hollering into his regulator as he saw his first Giant Pacific octopus.
One of the best parts of a night dive are the different animals that come out in the evening hours. Our night dive last week had Harbor seals join us for most of the dive, using our dive lights to hunt for invertebrates.
Harbor seals are fairly common marine mammals in Puget Sound with healthy populations. The can be brown, tan, or grey with spots on their back or underside and weight up to 290 pounds. Harbor seals are “true seals” meaning that they do not have ear like Sea lions do. Harbor seals do not migrate and will live their entire lives within a several square mile area. Our Puget Sound Harbor seal pups are born in late summer and are weaned from their mother after just 30 days.
Diving with Harbor seals can be exciting and a bit nerve wracking at first, as divers get used to having a large wild animal swim along side and dart out in front of them. Harbor seals also tend to swim up from behind divers, so that they are not noticed until you see them out of the corner of your mask. Once divers get used to having Harbor seals in the water, it quickly becomes an entertaining and memorable dive experience.
Sunday will mark the annual winter solstice. At 47° 36′ 23″ N latitude, Seattle is the most northerly large city in America, and with that we have one of the shortest winter days in the continental United States. On Sunday, December 21st, the sun will rise at 7:55 am and set at 4:20 pm, giving us just 8 hours and 25 minutes of daylight. The weak winter sun will just barely be above the horizon, peaking at 19 degrees at 12:08 pm before dropping back down below the horizon again at dusk.
Pacific Northwest native american tribes traditionally celebrated the winter solstice season with elaborate potlatches, featuring feasting, dancing, and gift-giving to form bonds and solidify relationships. This weekend, those interested in celebrating the winter solstice can try out the 26th annual Winter Solstice Feast in the artsy Freemont district, or try the winter solstice candlelight walk in Snohomish.
For scuba divers, the time around winter solstice means we can get started on our night dives extra early, this week at 3:30 pm to time our dive for dusk, when marine and terrestrial life are most active. Giant pacific octopus, Pacific spiny lumpsuckers, and several rockfish species are abundant this time of year, and combined with excellent water visibility in winter make this a great time to schedule a guided dive tour.
I just returned from a week at DEMA ( Dive Equipment & Marketing Association) in Las Vegas, Nevada. DEMA is a non-profit international organization dedicated to the promotion and growth of recreational scuba diving and snorkeling. They sponsor a trade-only event for businesses in the scuba diving industry, which I usually attend each year or so. The event is a great place to keep up on changes through attending seminars, checking out the latest gear and technology, and networking with other scuba professionals.
A majority of the time at DEMA is spent attending seminars about the scuba industry, and one of the most important that dive professionals can attend is on risk management. Here we get updates on waiver requirements and current best practices in mitigating risk in the industry. Other seminars were about training updates (the new ReActivate Scuba Review program), updated course materials (PADI iPad Touch, PADI eLearning), updates to ScubaEarth and the PADI app. There were also a few interesting seminars on business strategies and trip sales & management.
The Las Vegas Convention Center is a huge facility, and the DEMA show hall where manufacturers set up booths took up a big part of the convention center. On my list to check out this year were upgrades to the BCD rental fleet, gloves, and compressors. I was able to view lots of different types of products and speak to factory representatives. Now we’ll be better prepared when we do our gear orders in early 2015.
Of course, there was lots of networking and socializing, starting off with the PADI member social on Tuesday evening at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and going all the way through Friday. I also met some people from the Women Divers Hall of Fame, a great group that recognizes women’s contributions to diving and provides scholarships is various diving related categories. They also have an awards dinner each year at DEMA, which I plan to attend next year.
Now that I’m back in Seattle, it’s time to get back to our dive tours. We have excellent water conditions right now with some of the best visibility of the year. We’ve had lost of Giant Pacific octopus sightings this month and yesterday we had Orca swim by West Seattle, following a Salmon run through Puget Sound.
Hoping everyone had a great Thanksgiving and happy diving!
The dive starts off well enough, your descent starts off easily but then you start to find yourself sinking too quickly and adding air to your BCD to compensate. You still crash to the bottom and stir up a cloud of sand and silt around you. Once you recover, you start the dive but now find yourself constantly adding air to your BCD to stay off the bottom. Around you other divers in your group seem to be having no problems while you become more frustrated and tired as the dive wears on. As the Divemaster heads to shallower depths to start the safety stop, you’re constantly venting air from your BCD in order to not get above the group. The safety stop itself becomes a non stop cycle of inflate/deflate to maintain 15 feet. You get on the boat tired, frustrated, and ready to go back to shore.
We’ve all been there; the overweighted diver struggling to stay off the bottom. Why not try a few easy ways to improve your buoyancy on your next dive?
Estimate your buoyancy- Start with a chart, such as PADI’s Basic Weight Guidelines, to estimate your weighting. For Seattle Dive Tours, factoring in gear and cylinders, we use 10% of your body weight plus 10 pounds, then adjust on the second dive.
Take time to try a buoyancy check at the surface- Can you float at eye level with an empty BCD while holding a normal breath? Don’t be afraid to add or subtract a couple of pounds before the dive.
Relax and practice proper descent techniques- The most common reason for overweighting is not being able to descend. Remember to stop kicking, hold your arms still, exhale and allow yourself to slip below the water. See my post on descending here.
Add as little air to your BCD as possible- Your BCD should be used primarily for surface flotation. Only add just enough air while underwater to achieve neutral buoyancy.
Remember breath control- Want to get a bit higher to see something? Take an extra big breath instead to adding air to your BCD. You’ll rise up a bit in the water column and not have to add air to your BCD. Do not hold your breath!
Pay attention to trim- Center the weight around your front hip bones. In cold water where more weight is necessary, distribute the weight between your BCD integrated weight pockets and a weight belt or weight harness. Avoid using anything more than 1 or 2 pounds in back trim pockets.
Ditch the ankle weights- Switch to a heavier fin instead.
Develop a smooth kick stroke- Are you bicycle-pedaling in the water? Make sure you are horizontal, using a scissor kick with your hip flexors moving your legs.
Streamline your gear- Computers, dive lights, and slates should be clipped to your BCD or tucked in a pocket.
Try a class– We schedule the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course monthly, plus we can teach the class any day of the week for divers visiting Seattle. Call us at (206) 265-0006 or e-mail us to set up your custom class date.