Divers Meet Steller Sea Lions at Hornby Island

  • Hornby Island DIvers
Hornby Island DIvers

Hornby Island Divers getting really to dive

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.

Puget Sound king crab by Lauren Wilson

Puget Sound king crab by Lauren Wilson

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.

Yelloweye rockfish by Lauren Wilson

Yelloweye rockfish by Lauren Wilson

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.

Lions of Hornby Island

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.

Giant Pacific Octopus Protect Their Eggs

  • Giant Pacific Octopus on eggs by Steve Zedekar

Giant Pacific Octopus on Eggs by Steve Zedekar


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.

Giant Pacific Octopus Reproduction

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.

Ready to schedule your guided dive tour, to see giant Pacific octopus? Book your tour online, call us at (206) 265-0006, or e-mail to get started today!

Olga the Giant Pacific Octopus tends to Eggs

6 Reasons To Try A Night Dive

  • Giant Pacific Octopus

Have you thought about a night dive but just weren’t sure? Here are some great reasons to get you in the water at night!

Giant Pacific Octopus

Giant Pacific Octopus

1- Natural curiosity

During a night dive, everything takes on a new look. Your focus changes as you move about the dive site, observing life around your dive light and seeing ambient light from the surface.

2- See aquatic life that you might not see in the daytime

At dusk and again at dawn, nocturnal and diurnal species “trade places” on the dive site to seek food and engage in social activities. Rockfish seek out holes and ledges in the reef to sleep while other fish species, such as Ratfish, become more active. Our famous Giant pacific octopus is also more active at night, sometimes venturing out of their dens to hunt for food. Harbor seals are especially enthusiastic, occasionally following divers around Puget Sound dive sites and hunting using diver’s lights to illuminate prey.

3- A different perspective on a dive site

Even a familiar dive site can look completely different at night. Wrecks and small boats underwater become compelling and mysterious. Reefs light up with your dive light and display colors not seen in the daytime.

4- Experience bioluminescence

During the fall, billions of small microorganisms in Puget Sound become excited by water movement, which causes light emission in the microorganism. While on a dive safety stop, simply point your light down or towards you (for safety, do not turn your light off) and wave your free hand in the water. You’ll see thousands of  light pinpoints, an amazing experience to end your dive.

5- See the true colors of fish, invertebrates, corals

The PADI Open Water Diver course taught us that colors degrade underwater, first starting on the red end of the spectrum. A dive light can bring back the “true” colors of fish, invertebrates, and corals. Vermilion rockfish (Sebastes miniatus) become a beautiful red, Stubby squid (Rossia pacifica) can turn red to deep purple, and California sea cucumber (Parastichopus californicus) reveal their deep reddish-orange to yellow colorings.

6- Expand your dive opportunities

Go diving after work or even later in the day. Night diving is great way to squeeze in a dive after work or in the evening hours. We offer night dives every day of the week, and they can be scheduled anytime after sunset. A night dive is a perfect option for visitors to Seattle with a full daytime schedule of meetings, conferences, or even just sightseeing.

Ready to schedule your night dive tour, night PADI Adventure Dive, or PADI Night Diver certification? Book your tour online, call us at (206) 265-0006, or e-mail to get started today!

Giant Pacific Octopus Facts You’ll Want to Know

  • Giant pacific octopus

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

February Advanced Open Water Certification Becomes a Snow Dive

Mike and Eric warming up

Mike and Eric warming up

We took a break from our regular dive tours in mid-February to teach the PADI Advanced Open Water certification course, and even had a rare Seattle snowstorm in the middle of the course. Our divers for the weekend were Mike, taking both the PADI Advanced Open Water certification and Dry Suit Diver courses, and Eric, taking the Dry Suit Diver course.

The first day (Saturday) started off at Redondo Beach, very popular for it’s well marked dive site and easy access. Plus we’ve had good luck finding GPO’s (Giant pacific octopus) and Wolf eel at the site. The day started off cold, but I had brought a propane heater to help keep everyone warm between dives. The first Adventure Dive of the weekend was Dry Suit Diver, which helped Mike & Eric to orient themselves to their dry suits, and also to work out weighting issues and buoyancy. After some snacks, Mike & Eric went back in to try the second Adventure Dive, Underwater Navigator. The dive had Mike navigate out and back to find a small boat on the dive site at approximately 45’, fist using natural navigation techniques, then using his compass. We had gone out to the boat on the first Adventure Dive, so he had a general idea of where it was and what was around it, plus a map for reference. Mike reported after the dive that using the compass was actually harder than using natural navigation, as there was more task loading involved, such as watching the compass & keeping it level, searching ahead, and keeping track of his buddy. Mike finished off the dive with a square pattern underwater, navigating back at the starting point. For divers using navigation, remember the key is to cooperate with your buddy, one diver navigating while the other diver searches. A dive slate can really help with communication underwater as well.

Seattle skyline by Mitchell Tillison

Seattle skyline at Alki Seacrest Park by Mitchell Tillison

After a dinner break we met back up at Alki Seacrest Park (Cove 2) across from downtown Seattle for our night dive. After a dive site briefing, we entered the water under clear skies and a beautiful nighttime view of the Seattle skyline. Playful Harbor seals followed us on our dive, using our lights to hunt for fish & invertebrates. As we surfaced, the weather topside had changed to snow showers!

Sunday morning brought 3 inches of snow to the Seattle area, and we decided to return to Alki Seacrest Park (Cove 2) instead of our original plan of Three Tree Point. First Adventure Dive was Deep Diver, followed by Search & Recovery Diver, and finally a second dry suit dive to complete the Dry Suit Diver speciality course. During the deep dive, Mike got to see how pressure effects gasses, colors, and even thinking and judgement. The search & recovery dive involved learning how to rig and use a lift bag (Mike said this was his favorite part of the weekend), tie knots, and use search patters to find Spiderman and his friends. The dry suit dive had both Mike & Eric practice buoyancy and demonstrate removing and reattaching their dry suit inflator hoses while underwater. We had our post weekend lunch and wrap up next door at Marination Ma Kai, my favorite because of the SPAM sliders & coleslaw.

Congratulations Mike & Eric!

Congratulations Mike & Eric!

Thought about earning your Advanced Open Water? Our PADI Advanced Open Water course is scheduled on the second weekend of each month, plus we can we can teach it any other day (weekends or weekdays) for divers visiting Seattle. Check out our calendar or contact us to set up your own class. We teach all of our classes with as few as one student, so that you can get the instruction you want on your schedule.

Wolf Eels in Puget Sound

Wolf Eel by Steve Zedekar

Wolf Eel by Steve Zedekar

After descending and getting settled into the dive, our dive leaders always check around for cracks, crevasses, and midden piles (a mound of shells and broken up bits of crab) that might indicate the presence Wolf eel (Anarrhichthys ocellatus). Wolf eels aren’t true eels, but are related to Atlantic wolffish instead. They can grow to 8 feet in length and over 40 pounds. Wolf eels feed on invertebrates such as mussels, clams, and crabs. This is why looking for midden is a good way to locate a nearby den. Sometimes Wolf eels and Giant pacific octopus will compete for the best den spaces as they both look for the same den characteristics.

Many times divers will notice two Wolf eels in a den together. This is a breeding pair who mate for life and cooperate to protect their eggs from predators such as Rock fish and Sculpin. After about 4 months the eggs hatch and the baby Wolf eels float away on the current, called a pelagic phase, before eventually becoming mature enough to find a mate. Juvenile Wolf eels are a reddish-orange color that changes to dull grey as they mature.

Juvenile Wolf Eel by Steve Zedekar

Juvenile Wolf Eel by Steve Zedekar

To divers Wolf eels look fierce but are generally relaxed and friendly. There have been reports of Wolf eels being preyed upon by Harbor seals, but they have few other natural enemies. Native Americans historically hunted Wolf eels for ceremonial feasts, but they are generally not hunted today. Ready to meet a Wolf eel face to face? Book your tour online or contact Seattle Dive Tours for more information.

Wolf Eels of Day Island Wall