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Scuba diving in Puget Sound is an amazing experience, and the main reason is the wide variety of marine life we have to offer. Here are 5 rock star fish (and where to find them) that make Puget Sound scuba diving so great:
(Sebastes maliger) These members of the Rockfish family are solitary and like to hang out close to the bottom, on or near rocks and boulders. They like chasing after Spot prawn and small crabs for food and can be easily identified by their mottled brown and yellow pattern. Look for Quillback Rockfish when diving at Three Tree Point.
(Nautichthys oculofasciatus) Named for their elongated dorsal fin, Sailfin Sculpin are nocturnal and can be commonly found during night dives at Alki Seacrest Park (Cove 2) in West Seattle. They range in color from yellow-brown to yellow-grey with dark bands on the body and unusual scales that have a velvety texture. Sailfin Sculpin migrate up to the intertidal zone in late winter and early spring to spawn.
(Oxylebius pictus) Like Clown fish in the South Pacific, Painted Greenling (especially juveniles) have a symbiotic relationship with fish-eating anemone and will hide from predators in their stinging tentacles. Painted Greenling are easy to find day or night at Redondo Beach.
(Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus) These beautiful fish are members of the sculpin family and can be found resting near rocky areas. Use a dive light to see its brilliant red coloring, but be careful not to touch one as they have poisonous spines that can injure a diver. A good dive site to see one is Alki Junk Yard in West Seattle.
(Ophiodon elongatus) These can be some of the biggest fish that a diver will see in Puget Sound, growing up to 5 feet in length and weighing in at 130 pounds. The largest example in Puget Sound can be fount at Edmonds Underwater Park. Lingcod can be very territorial (especially during egg season) and will charge and even bump into a diver that gets too close. Lingcod will eat almost anything, including Rockfish and even small Giant pacific octopus. In turn, Lingcod are eaten by Harbor seals and California sea lions.
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.
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.
Followers of our blog, twitter, and Facebook posts have heard us mention the Harbor seals that frequently accompany us on our night dives, especially at Seacrest Park Cove 2. Here’s a video from last week taken by Northwest diver Ben Hollis and Seattle Dive Tours Divemaster Chen Hsu. Harbor seals are common in and around Puget Sound, and are one of the most widely distributed Pinnipeds in the world. Harbor seal pups have historically used the beaches in West Seattle to haul out, rest and warm up between foraging sessions in the water. Harbor seals don’t migrate like both the California and Stellar sea lions that our dive tours often see resting on the navigation buoys in Elliott Bay, and instead our local Harbor seals live their lives in the Northwest.
Ben and Chen were doing a night dive at Seacrest Park Cove 2 just after sunset when 3 Harbor seals decided to tag along: