Sund Rock My World

Before I started this new blog, I already had several octopus experiences I wanted to write about. And since I started, I’ve got several more. Which means I have an octopus backlog. And two of the dives started kinda similarly.

At the North Wall of Sund Rock down in Hood canal a few weeks ago, I had one of the best dives I have ever had. My buddy and I walked in the water and started to swim to a buoy we were going to drop down. But before I swam six kicks I spotted a lion’s mane jelly in the water. I dropped down to about 4 feet to shoot photos because, you see, I have a never-ending quest to get the perfect photo of a lion’s mane jelly. And the quest is never ending because it might not be possible (at least not with my camera gear). And yet I remain persistent. So after taking photos for a few minutes, I surfaced so I could descend with Stacey.

And what followed was one underwater phenomenon after another. At the bottom of the buoy line I found a sailfin sculpin under the first rock I looked under. And then another swam in. Then another! Sailfins are one of my favorite fish. These guys never came out for good photos, but still – three sailfin sculpins together was a sight I had never beheld.

I moved off and dropped down a few more feet, and a young adult wolf eel was staring me in the face. He/she was beautiful – old enough to be gray, but young enough to still have spots and not yet have the old-man grizzled mug.

The dive continued like this – one awesome animal after another, sights neither of us had seen. We encountered five or six wolf eels, including the largest one I have ever seen (and maybe the largest one on the planet – it is possible). He was gargantuan and his head appeared completely stuck between rocks. He was so jammed into a crevice it looked like the wolf eel mafia had got to him to give him a warning.

I had just found another wolf eel and was about to start taking photos when I saw Stacey’s dive light out of the corner of my eye, and it was going nuts – frantic motion of the light that just got more and more frantic and pleading. I knew I had to abandon the wolfie to see what I was missing. And it was a good call. A free-swimming Giant Pacific Octopus. What a beast. I am not set up for wide angle photography, but I gave it my best. Only problem was it kept swimming up and up, so eventually I had to let it go on without me.

We found a field of a nudibranch species called Flabellina that looked like they were all about to spawn. There were no eggs, but there were hundreds of these little nudi’s on tiny little stalks sticking up from the bottom. It looked like a bizarre scene out of Willie Wanka – an acre of Flabellina lollipops. We also encountered a couple Dendronotids – HUGE nudibranchs, maybe 10 inches long…

Before heading up, I wanted to swim deeper to look for the sea whips I knew were out there. And we found them. As with much on this dive, a completely new thing for both of us. These things were huge, too – surprisingly so. Maybe 3 feet tall. Viz at depth was excellent. I did not want to leave.

Sometimes it is really, really hard to leave. So hard the only thing that gets me topside is knowing there is actually zero choice in the  matter.

Stacey and sea whip

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Octopus on the home front: Little Redondo Red

As most anyone who knows me knows, I like the little things underwater. Oddly, we call them “macro.” I’m a macro diver or, more gently, a critter diver. Whatever the word, it is the small stuff. The animals most people overlook.

Why do I favor them? Because they seem more special, like rare finds, little treasures, yet they are plentiful, varied, beautiful, fun, fascinating, cute, and everything the big animals are, they are just more often overlooked.

The truth is, I like all underwater life. All of it. In my underwater world, the megafauna share the spotlight with the little animals. But lately it seems the octopus don’t want to share. Instead, they keep showing up to make story after story after story.

I am currently in the middle of octopus tales on my alter ego blog site, DivEncounters. But because the Alliance vessels are not in Puget Sound or other cold places I love to dive, I can’t really talk volumes about my local diving on the Sea Pen. And sometimes there are good stories to tell. Like that little red octo I saw at Redondo a couple weeks ago with John. I mentioned it on the Sea Pen, but now — here — I get to share photos! And more of the story.

So here is the whole story. It was a quiet dive overall, but viz was terrific. I was scanning large pieces of kelp in case there were any little baby Spiny Lumpsuckers still around. And while scanning kelp, something red caught my eye. Now, red octopus don’t have to be red. And bright red typically signifies they are unhappy. But this one was hanging out red. I moved the kelp and this is what I saw:

1. Red Octo

Notice in that first photo the octo is a light red (not fire-engine red), and its little mantle (the head part) appears pretty relaxed. It almost looks like it was snoozing. And I disturbed its sleep.

2. Red Octo

So snoozy little octo here realizes he (could be a she; don’t know) is now exposed. Turns a brighter red and tries to move along to hide again. Like this (see that grumpy yet determined look in its eye?):

3. Creeping... Red Octo

Problem was, I kept moving the kelp it was hiding under.

It was not happy. How do I know? Note the red points on its head. Mad little octo.

4. Pointy headed Red Octo

But then it seemed to change tactics (anger wasn’t working). Change tactics by changing colors…

See the light color areas behind its eyes? And…notice the barnacles nearby? Color/shape coincidence? I don’t think so.

5. Red Octo

It changed shape, too. Its mantle became quite round.

See those rocks? In fact, look at the little nubs on its head — a lot like the bits of gunk and silt on the rocks.

6. Red Octo

And finally, notice the catlike movements? Okay, hard to see in a still photo I know. But this is when he was creeping along, very slowly. Like a cartoon character. He was acting like a rock! Blows my mind.

7. Red Octo

Lo and behold. He found cover (that I for once did not move). I thought he deserved to be left alone to hide.

8. Red Octo, Mission Accomplished

But, um, does it seem like the white spots (a bryozoan) on the kelp look a little bit like Giant Pacific Octopus suckers…?

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