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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.
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.
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.
Here is a little bit about the Porteau Cove British Columbia dives from last week while I was up in British Columbia:
Dive One we just sort of went down the stairs and swam underwater to the artificial reef and poked around the tires and concrete stuff. Lots of shrimp, Dungeness crab, Decorator crab, and a shy Kelp Greenling. We looked around for an hour or so and headed back for a surface interval and to change cylinders.
Dive Two we did a surface swim out to the buoy marking the Granthall wreck, then dropped down the line. Viz opened up to 40′ below the algae layer on top. Lots of Plumose Anemone, Copper Rockfish, and some very large Lingcod. Also saw Moon jelly, Sea blubber, California Sea Cucumber plus another type that I haven’t seen before, and a single Orange Sea Pen.
Dive site is pretty shallow, don’t think we got below 50″ and the tide was going out. Both dives were lots of fun, I plan to go back soon and take some more pictures. Check out the photographs from this trip on the Porteau Cove, BC Facebook album.
On May 22nd I went up to a beautiful dive site north of Seattle on Whidbey Island, called Keystone Jetty. Also along was my friend and PADI Assistant Scuba Diving Instructor, Ken Bell. Lots to see at this protected marine preserve, including Copper and Black Rockfish, Lingcod, Kelp Greenling, Painted Greenling, Kelp Crabs, and lots of Plumose Anemone.
Once we finished our dive, we headed up to Oak Harbor and some lunch at Seabolt’s Smokehouse for some Fish and Chips and then over to Whidbey Island Dive Center to chat with the owner and check out the vintage dive gear.