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Its been a fun and exciting 6 days with our March 2015 Hornby Island dive trip, where we spent two days of diving in Puget Sound before heading up to Hornby Island, British Columbia to dive in Canadian waters, and to see the Lions of Hornby Island. Our divers traveled from Florida, Hawaii, California and Washington state to join us on this underwater adventure.
Our trip started out near Seattle with two days of diving on Bandito Charters out of Tacoma WA. We visited some of our most popular south Puget Sound dive sites, including Z’s Reef, Point Defiance North Wall, and Maury Island Barges. Maury Island Barges was particularly beautiful as we had sunny skies (which meant lots of ambient light underwater), and 50+ foot visibility. We saw large populations of Copper and Brown rockfish, schools of various perch, and a favorite of mine, Painted greenling. On the invertebrate side we saw Plumose anemone, lots of sea stars and Giant barnacles.
After completing our two boat dive days, Friday was a travel day from Seattle north to Hornby Island, where we met up with more of our divers. The journey from Seattle to Hornby Island included a border crossing and a total of three ferries. The scenic drive north between Nanaimo and Port Hardy was especially beautiful with old growth forests and occasional views of the Salish Sea. While passing through Nanaimo, we had a chance to stop and try the famous Nanaimo bars.
After arriving at Hornby island Diving around early evening, we unpacked and had dinner. A few of our divers decided to try a night dive at Ford Reef, a shallow dive site accessible from shore next to the resort. The divers were amazed to find several large and brightly colored Puget Sound king crab out and about underwater in the early evening hours. After a good night’s sleep Friday, we were all up early Saturday ready to begin the first day of diving. The morning started out with sun and a few high clouds, and after breakfast we headed to our first dive site of the day, Flora Islet. The dive site was a wall dive with an easy line descent down to 60’, then divers followed the wall with a gentle current as they poked among the rocks for sea life. We found lots of Pile and Kelp perch, Copper and Quillback rockfish, Kelp greenling, and a very large Giant Pacific Octopus easily viewed in its den.
Once the dive was finished, we headed back to shore for air fills and a hearty lunch before traveling out to the second dive at Nash Bank. This boulder strewn dive site features hundreds of Lingcod, some guarding eggs, and a rare Yelloweye rockfish thought to be 100+ years old. Several of the divers happened upon this calm and friendly fish, who allowed us to take photos and video from a respectful distance before we moved on. After a second return trip to shore, a few of our divers headed back out for a third dive Repulse Point.
A storm came through Saturday night, bringing thunder and heavy rain to the island. We woke up Sunday morning to choppy seas and decided to delay our morning dive by 1 hour to allow for the weather to pass though. Once the seas had calmed down, our divers headed to Toby Islet for the morning dive. After a return to shore and lunch, we headed out for the main event, a dive at Norris Rocks with Steller sea lions. The sea lion colony is a temporary group of juvenile and adult Steller sea lions mixed with a few smaller adult California sea lions. As soon as we pulled up to the dive site, the juvenile Steller sea lions were in the water ready to meet us. Underwater, we settled in at about 30’ to watch the sea lions swim and carefully approach us. The sea lions are wild animals that are very curious, but can also be unpredictable. We took lots of still photos and video as the sea lions swam around us, checking out our dive gear and occasionally nipping at our fins and hoods with their mouths. It is quite exciting and unnerving to have a large wild animal put his mouth over your head and gingerly try to pull your scuba hood off. Our divers were able to spend up to an hour underwater with these amazing marine mammals.
Video by Christine Simon
Sunday evening consisted of naps, massages by a local masseuse, and a fresh salmon dinner before venturing off resort to Middle Mountain Mead artisan honey winery for a private tasting. Mead wine is a honey based wine that has been fermented since ancient times and was popular with the Vikings. After learning more about this unusual drink, and picking up a few bottles to take home, we headed back down the mountain. Monday morning was out last dive, where many of our divers headed back to Norris Rocks for more diving with Steller sea lions before packing up to catch ferries and eventually flights back home.
The dive trip was a great success, with divers experiencing dive sites and marine life that can not be seen elsewhere. We’ll definitely be coming up to Hornby Island and other parts of British Columbia again for more diving, and hopefully we’ll get another chance to meet the Lions of Hornby Island.
As July closes out this week, our Seattle Dive Tours summer season is in full swing. Visibility has been averaging 30′ or more on most dives and wildlife sightings are plentiful. In addition to our Giant pacific octopus, we are also seeing a related, smaller species, Red octopus (Octopus rubescens). Not sure how to tell them apart? The Seattle Aquarium has a handy cheat sheet to help. The great visibility also allows us to see more mid-water schooling fish, such as perch and some Rockfish species. Our most abundant marine mammal at the dive sites right now is the Harbor seal. Last week one delighted our divers by swimming on the surface and diving to catch fish throughout the morning. Our California and Stellar sea lions are at their breeding rookeries along the Oregon and Washington coasts, and we expect them to return around mid-August.
Divers continue to arrive from the United States and Canada, and this summer we’ve also had divers visiting and scuba diving with us from Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Singapore, and the Netherlands. Most divers have commented on the clarity of the water and bright ambient light from the summer sun. We’ve had several divers request PADI courses, with Dry Suit Diver, Enriched Air Diver (Nitrox) and Advanced Open Water being the most popular. Don’t forget that while we regularly schedule all of our PADI classes monthly, we can also teach any class any day of the week for divers visiting Seattle.
Looking ahead, our warm summer should continue through August, then transition to fall in the Pacific Northwest, featuring cool, clear nights and warm, sunny days. Don’t forget to book your dive now to experience the beauty of Pacific Northwest waters for yourself.
Seattle is starting to settle in to its familiar fall weather pattern of warm, sunny days and clear cool nights- a perfect time to try scuba diving in the Northwest and explore the best dive sites in Seattle and Puget Sound. Water temperatures remain relatively warm while visibility improves to some of the best of the year. Fall also brings with it stunning bioluminescence, with millions of microscopic invertebrates creating a glow in Puget Sound water during night dives.
Both Steller sea lions and California sea lions have returned from their breeding rookeries in Alaska and California to join our year-round Harbor seal population to rest on Seattle beaches. As always, Seattle Dive Tours works closely with Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network to identify and protect resting seal pups.
Underwater, fish and invertebrates look even more stunning in the clear, cool water. Copper rockfish and Brown rockfish are plentiful, while Nudibranchs such as White-lined Dirona, Opalescent Nudibranch, and Yellow margin Dorid are all reaching their largest sizes of the year, plus our own Puget Sound Giant Pacific octopus is usually around for a viewing by our scuba divers.
Our PADI professional dive guides will be at the Northwest’s best dive sites in Seattle this fall to show both visiting and local divers the amazing beauty of Puget Sound.
One of our Seattle Dive Tours divers, Norwegian Claes-Gøran Bye, posted this video from his recent guided scuba diving tour with us at Redondo Beach, WA. Looking at the footage, I found Giant Pacific octopus, Plumose anemone, Sunflower star, Copper rockfish, Giant barnacle, Northern kelp crab, and Spiny pinkstar. If you can identify anything else, leave it in the comments section below of let us know on our Facebook page.
We had a busy weekend with scuba diving tours both Saturday and Sunday. Our Saturday tour featured two local divers plus a third diver from the United Kingdom. We also had our newest Divemaster, David Sisson, assisting. On Sunday our tour had another 3 divers, two from Lindblad Expeditions who were on break before heading back to Alaska to lead adventure tours.
Both days we were at Redondo Beach just south of Seattle. We had excellent conditions with partly sunny skies and comfortable temperatures. Currents were very mild this weekend and we were able to time our dives for perfect slack conditions. Divemaster Brian Hull made his special chocolate brownies for our surface interval snack.
Our scuba divers were treated to sightings of both a Giant pacific octopus in it’s den, and also a smaller Red octopus out hunting in the open. Divers also saw lots of Copper rockfish, a Crescent gunnel, a Wolf eel, and lots of other fish & invertebrates. A great weekend of diving, now we are ready to head into the week with even more scuba diving tours in the Pacific Northwest.
One of the most common fish species that we see on our dive tours is the Copper rockfish, Sebastes caurinus. Copper rockfish range from a dark brown to a lighter reddish brown with a copper to yellowish mottling on its sides. The lighter stripe usually runs down the rear half of the lateral line while the more prominent darker band slopes downward from the eye. Copper rockfish range from 12-24 inches in size, and can live for 40 or more years. Because Copper rockfish do not begin to reproduce until 3-7 years old, spearfishing or commercial fishing can seriously deplete its numbers.
Copper rockfish can be found from Alaska all the way down to Baja California. Divers can see the Copper rockfish as shallow as 15-20 feet, but they can live all the way down to 600 feet. Adults usually rest on rocks or near reef structures, and stay close to their chosen home for their entire lives. Juveniles can be observed by divers in eel grass beds near the end of a dive, or during a safety stop. Occasionally, we have even seen Copper rockfish living inside the dens of Giant Pacific Octopus.
While we see many Copper rockfish during our dives, they are an interesting and important part of the underwater ecosystem. To see Copper rockfish, book your dive online today, or contact us for more information.