Seattle Dive Tours

Puget Sound in the Spring… from Laura James on Vimeo.

Seattle videographer Laura James has put together this very fun video of life in Puget Sound over at one of our favorite dive sites, Alki Beach Junk Yard. So many fish and invertebrates in the video, my favorites were Striped nudibranch, Grunt sculpin, and a juvenile Wolf eel.

Are you ready to go diving and see all the amazing sea life here in Seattle?

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Our guest blogger, Christine Simon, has put together some facts on our own Giant pacific octopus. The post was originally submitted for a marine biology class at Duke University.

Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO)

Giant pacific octopus

Giant pacific octopus by John Hall

1. Three cool facts about the GPO- did you know-
– Giant Pacific Octopuses have three hearts! Two hearts pump blood to the gills, and the third services the rest of the body.
– They have blue blood! Their blood uses hemocyanin instead of hemoglobin to carry oxygen to the tissues, thus the blood is blue when oxygenated.
– GPOs are masters of camouflage! They have chromatophores in their skin which allow them to change colors in an instant- from dark red to grey to sand- to the exact color match of their rocky reef habitat.

2. Scientific name:
Giant Pacific Octopus Octopus dofleini are shell-less cephalopods in the order Octopoda, in the family Octopodidae. Their genus Enteroctopus (frequently called large octopuses ) includes only four species, of which the GPO is the largest. All of the Enteroctopus’ are found in temperate waters, with the GPO being the only one found in the Northern Hemisphere, in the Pacific. The other three species are found, according to species, in New Zealand, along the Pacific coast of South America and on the southern coast of Africa.

3. Description:
The Giant Pacific Octopus is the largest of the octopus species; they can reach a weight of 100 lbs with an arm span of 13 to 20 ft. Usually colored reddish-pink, the mantle of the GPO contains the major organs, and can be 8-12inches across. The largest documented captured GPO weighed in at 156lbs, although there was an unconfirmed report of 600lbs. GPOs are found in the temperate areas of the Northern Pacific coastal waters, from California, north to the cooler waters of the Bering Sea, and then also across in Japanese and Korean waters. Divers often find them in sandy and rocky reef areas, where the GPO lives alone in their den, tucked in a crevice at the base of rocky outcroppings; they have been found in the shallows down to 330 ft. Little is known about their population size, although populations in Puget Sound, WA are described by WA Fish & Wildlife as “ healthy.”

4. Life history of species:
GPOs have a short lifespan of only 3-5 yrs. They hatch from eggs about the size of a grain of rice, and drift in a planktonic stage for several months. Later, they live a solitary lifestyle in a den. GPOs mature between 2-3 yrs and mate only once in their lifetime. During the mating process, the male slips a spermatophore into the female’s mantle, which she stores until she is ready to lay eggs in her chosen den. As the eggs pass by the sperm, they are fertilized; she secretes the eggs (20,000-100,000) in strings along the wall of her den. She tends the eggs for 6-7 months, rarely leaving the den, staying to softly aerate them by blowing them with air from her siphon. The male dies shortly after mating. After the eggs hatch, the female blows the hatchlings out of the den into the world; she dies shortly afterwards.

5. Foraging and feeding behavior-
As predators foraging in their habitat, GPOs make extensive use of their adaptations to capture their preferred prey- crabs, shellfish and fish. GPOs have chromatophores in their skin that allow them to change color, as well as an ability to change their texture- which allows them to ambush their prey, nearly invisibly camouflaged into their surroundings. They have a venomous bite to kill their prey, once they’ve secured it. They can use their siphon to blow away sand, to reveal hidden shellfish or crabs. Strong suckers on their arms allow them to open bivalves or rip them from a nearby rock, which are then crushed by its chitinous beak. They have been known to use tools, and also to use reasoning abilities—GPOs will steal crabs already caught in a fisherman’s crab pot, by squeezing into the pot, eating the crabs, and then exiting the pot, leaving just the shells.

6. Special characteristics- intelligence
The octopus has the largest brain of any invertebrate, with 60% of their neurons in their arms, allowing their skin to change colors instantly, and allowing them to use their suckers for taste, smell and feeling. There is ample data confirming the intelligence of this non-human animal- in captivity they have been known to play games, solve problems, open jars, even twist a Rubik’s cube. When kept in captivity, there is ample evidence of their ability to escape their tank. A study has even been done confirming that GPOs, with repeated contact, can recognize specific individuals.

7. Conservation concerns, threats, and management issues:
Octopus populations are resilient, as they have short lifespans and produce many eggs at once. According to the Washington Dept of Fish & Wildlife, the giant pacific octopus is not at risk in the Puget Sound, however they are beloved in the area. The Annual Octopus Census occurs in Feb, when recreational divers report sightings of GPOs, in an effort to determine local numbers in an informal manner, which are reported to scientists at the Seattle Aquarium. Hunting GPOs is allowed by permit in the state of Washington (maximum allowed is one per day). In Oct2012, a young man provoked outrage in the community when he legally harvested a GPO from a popular local dive site, which drove the formation of the Citizen Advisory Committee, including representatives of the sportfishing and diving community. They worked w WDFW to develop protections for the GPO in Puget Sound, and in Oct2013, a policy was passed, prohibiting recreational harvest at seven popular dive sites, which together encompass 1300 acres of habitat. Outside of Puget Sound, the GPO is routinely harvested for food or bait in both Alaska and Japan.

8. Brief biography of expert: Dr. Roland C Anderson
The leading expert on Giant Pacific Octopuses, Dr Anderson was an avid scuba diver w a special interest in cold water cephalopods of Puget Sound, however his research interests focused on the GPO. Dr Anderson did his PhD in Marine Biology from Greenwich University. During his >30 yr tenure as scientist at the Seattle Aquarium, he published many articles in the scientific literature as well as in the trades; international post-doctoral students came to work with him throughout the years. His best loved work discussed the octopus’s capacity for play, as well as the GPO’s ability to recognize specific individuals.

9. Further reading:
– Jennifer A Mather, Roland C Anderson, & James B Wood. 2010. Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate.
– Anderson R.C. and Leontiou A. 2005 Evaluating Toys for Octopuses (Enteroctopus dofleini, Cephalopoda) The Cephalopod Page (http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/) Wood, J.B. Webmaster. (July 13, 2005)
– Anderson, R. C.; Mather, J. A.; Monette, M. Q.; Zimsen, S. R. M. (2010). “Octopuses (Enteroctopus dofleini) Recognize Individual Humans”. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 13 (3): 261–272

Stubby Squid

Stubby Squid

Our busy Spring diving season is in full swing right now, with travelers coming from all over the United States, plus Spain, Singapore, and Panama to experience diving in the Pacific Northwest. On a recent dive we came across a Stubby squid, one of the more interesting and unusual invertebrates we see on our Guided Dive Tours as they look similar to Cuttlefish and exhibit Bioluminescence. As we’ve mentioned before, Puget Sound itself has beautiful Bioluminescence in the water during the fall season.

Stubby squid, also called a Bobtail squid, are closely related to the Cuttlefish and are a member of the cephalopods order in the family Sepiolidae, with the scientific name Sepiola atlantica. They have eight arms and two tentacles, and are roughly golfball sized. With the help of Bioluminescent bacteria in it’s skin, Stubby squid can change colors and patterns to match the environment or confuse predators. They can be found at all the most popular dive sites in Puget Sound, plus the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Cape Peninsula of South Africa. We typically see them on night dives or during times of lower visibility, and in shallow water near eel grass beds.

With a 1-2 year life cycle, Stubby squid will mate and then die shortly afterward, leaving their egg clutches buried in the sand to hatch by themselves. Baby Stubby squid hatch as tiny versions of their parents, able to forage and hunt immediately. Adults and juveniles eat shrimp that they catch with their tentacles and eat with a horny beak inside their mouths.

Stubby squid are not considered threatened, and do well in urban waterways such as Puget Sound. Ready to see s Stubby squid? Now is a good time to book your dive tour and see these amazing creatures in their Pacific Northwest habitat.

Stubby Squid

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Sea lions

California sea lions near Seattle, photo by CoffeeJitters

Second to Harbor seals, California Sea Lions are the most common Pinniped that we see in the Northwest, with a total population of over 300,000 ranging from the southern tip of the Baja peninsula in Mexico to as far north as Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Some of these will choose to spend late summer through early spring in Seattle, feeding and resting in front of downtown in Elliott Bay.

California sea lions (Zalophus Californianus) are closely related to two other sea lion species, the extinct Japanese sea lion and the endangered Galapagos sea lion. California sea lions can weigh close to 1,000 pounds and grow to 7 feet in length, while their fur color can range from gold to a dark brown color. They can live for up to 30 years in the wild, reaching sexual maturity at around 7-9 years. Unlike “true seals“, sea lions have external ear flaps and can move on land with their hind flippers.

In the spring, male California sea lions migrate down to breeding rookeries in the Channel Islands National Park. Females do not migrate and stay near their rookeries year-round. Once females give birth, they will nurse pups for up to 1 year, with females sometimes leaving their pups for up to 3 days while foraging at sea. After breeding season, males will head back north until next spring.  California sea lions feed on a wide variety of fish and invertebrates, mostly foraging around coastal areas and sea mounts. They have been known to swim as far as 280 miles out to sea and can dive to depths of over 500 feet while remaining submerged for up to 10 minutes. They can also slow their heart rate to stay underwater longer.

While resting and basking in the sun off the Seattle waterfront, sea lions keep a watchful eye out for their main predator, Orca. Resident Puget Sound Orca pods are focused on eating salmon and are not interested in sea lions, but transient Orca pods will travel into Puget Sound to hunt for seals, sea lions, Grey whales, and other marine mammals. California sea lions also need to keep a watch out for sharks while in the open ocean, as they will ambush them while resting on the water.

Due to their increasing population numbers, California sea lions are not considered threatened wight he help of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Their main threats are now conflicts with fishermen, entanglements with garbage, and the killing of sea lions near the Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River.

We wish our California sea lions a safe journey back down to the Channel Islands, and look forward to their return to Puget Sound later this summer!

Check out this video of California and Steller sea lions up north of Seattle on Hornby Island, BC:

The Lions of Hornby

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Lingcod

Lingcod

After spawning earlier in the year, male Lingcod in the Pacific Northwest are now out in force protecting their nests from predators. Females leave the chore of watching their unhatched eggs to the males, who will aggressively chase away any threats. Divers who have gotten too close to a nest have reported receiving a warning “bump” by a protective Lingcod parent. These can be some of the largest fish you’ll see in Puget Sound. Smaller Lingcod range between 10-15 pounds, while the largest examples are at Edmonds Underwater Park where 50-70 pounds is not unusual. Other good dive sites for viewing include Saltwater State Park and Alki Seacrest Park (Cove 2).

Neither a Ling nor a Cod, Lingcod, Ophiodon elongatus, is closely related to another fish found only in the Northwest, the Kelp Greenling. Lingcod are found along the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to Alaska, divers can usually observe juveniles in the shallower eel grass beds while adults prefer rocky bottom areas. I’m constantly amazed by the coloring variation in Lingcod, with black/white, blue/purple, and tan/brown 3 of the most common color themes.

Once the Lingcod eggs have successfully hatched, the larvae enter a pelagic stage, where they float about, until late May or early June, when they find a eel grass bed and live as juveniles. After maturing, the young adults move to the rocky bottom areas. Lingcod at all stages eat a wide variety of prey, including Rockfish, Red octopus, and smaller Giant pacific octopus. More than once we have observed a Lingcod with tentacles coming out of its gills from a freshly devoured Red octopus. Lingcod themselves can also be preyed upon by Harbor seals and California sea lions. With its high reproductive rate, Lingcod are not considered threatened at this time.

With Lingcod nesting season here, now is a good time to book your dive tour and see these amazing creatures in their Pacific Northwest habitat.

Over the past few weeks we have made some new additions to our scuba rental gear selection for dive tours. First up we have purchased more our our 7mm Neo Sport 2 piece wet suits and accessories. The last suit in our order, a men’s extra small, just arrived today. We offer women’s even sizes 4-14, and men’s sizes XS through 3XL! With our larger wet suit size range, almost everyone will have the best fit possible, which in turn will mean greater warmth and comfort while on a dive tour. We also now have multiple suits in our most popular sizes, so each wet suit can go out fewer times and have more time to “rest” between uses.

Scuba Rebtal Gear

Scuba Rental Gear

We’ve also added new 7mm booties, hoods and gloves. Our largest bootie is now a men’s size 14, and I’m just waiting for a diver to need a size that big so we can use it. Four new DUI weight harnesses also arrived recently. For anyone who has struggled with a traditional weight belt (and that includes almost everyone), a weight harnesses is a miracle. They work by distributing the weight over your shoulders for extra support and security, plus they can be worn lower on the hips than a weight belt, improving buoyancy and trim. Our DUI weight harnesses are available in small, medium, or large so each diver has the best possible fit.

Cylinders have also been upgraded, and we are now using low-pressure steel XS Scuba 80’s. We chose steel cylinders for their better buoyancy characteristics over aluminum. Steel cylinders are also heavier at the start of the dive and do not become negatively buoyant at the end of the dive, so the diver can carry less weight in their BCD or weight belt. Low pressure means that behind the scenes our cylinders will fill faster with our needing to be “topped off”. The lower fill pressure also benefits compressors, as they don’t have to work as hard to fill each cylinder and maintenance costs will be reduced. Finally, increasing our cylinder size to 80- cubit feet (our older cylinders had a slightly smaller volume) allows a longer dive to for our divers.

Our goal of continuously updating and improving our scuba rental gear selection means that you can relax and enjoy your dive tour while visiting Seattle. When you are ready, visit our Guided Dive Tours page and join us for an adventure!