Sucker!

The giant Pacific octopus lurked within easy reach in a shallow hole, its large suckers giving away its strange existence.  I reached in to shake hands; first it retreated, then it wrapped its suckers around my fingertips with a firm grasp and began to pull me in.

I was with my dive club on a trip to Neah Bay, Washington. Home of the Makah Indian nation, it’s near the most Northwest tip of the continental United States.  It’s also home to some of the best cold water diving I’ve ever done. It was the last dive of the weekend.

People don’t think of reefs and cold water diving in the same mental breath. Say “reef”, and their mind goes to a multi hued structure full of bright corals and colorful fish in a warm water location, with the visibility 100 feet and the water an incredible blue. In the NW the visibility often runs 15-20 feet in murkier tan or greenish water, the water 46-50 degrees F, and most of the fish have subdued colors, but the reefs can be every bit as interesting.

We were diving a site we call Tiger Reef, not because it housed giant catfish, but for regular occurrences of the Tiger Rockfish.

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Tiger Rockfish by Chad King, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Cold water reefs can also have corals, sponges, anemones, shellfish, hydroids, kelp, and many more fish varieties. Most common are Black Rockfish, but other rockfish species can be found, as well as Ling Cod and Sculpin.

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Black Rockfish by Chad King, Monterey Bay Aquarium

But I’m always on the lookout for Wolf Eels and Octopus.

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Wolf Eel  by Erik Schauff

Both tuck away in a lair, finding either is an elaborate game of hide and seek. Nooks and crannies need a peek. A flashlight is a near requirement.

I’d already encountered a small wolf eel with the assistance of a dive buddy. Moving on, past a school of rockfish I spotted a tell tale row of suckers hidden in the rocks.

Octopus dens are often buried within a crack or crevice, out of easy reach. This one was accessible, ergo my effort to introduce myself. He was a good sized octopus, maybe 8-10 feet across if spread from arm tip to arm tip, and his grip on my gloved hand had an odd, searching, sucking pressure as he tasted and began to reel me in.

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Eye to Eye with an Octopus by Dave Ply
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Octopus Sucker by Dave Ply

You might wonder why I’d stick my hand close to the business end of a giant octopus. Experience.  This wasn’t my first dance.

His pull was firm, maybe 4 or 5 pounds of pressure. We enjoyed a hearty handshake for 30 seconds, each giving a sociable pull or two. I extracted myself and moved on.

50 yards on I found signs of another octopus. A regular den may be flagged by a pile of shells outside the front door. I looked in; he too was home, but too far in for introductions.

Continuing the game of hide and seek, I found another pile of shells. This lair was also occupied, this time it was a Wolf Eel. A big one.  A head the size of a bowling ball filled the hole, skin the color of wizened white granite, he patiently looked at me with the face of a 1000-year-old man.  A small China Rockfish hovered three nonchalant inches away from his nose. I could only wonder how much fish was behind that huge head, and if he was thinking “get that damn light out of my face and get off my porch!”

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China Rockfish by Janna Nichols

* * * * *

After returning to the boat we opted to take our non-diving guest, the wife of a member for an unexpected scenic ride. Leaving Waadah Island off of Neah Bay we headed up the Strait of Juan de Fuca to its end, Cape Flattery, as far NW as you can get in the continental United States. This was a treat for us too, we normally head back to camp after diving.

Conditions were perfect. Clear skies, temp in the upper 70’s, so little wind the water surface was like glass. Swells broke up the flatness of the water, giving a shimmer to the reflections. The boat powered along, the usual pounding of windier waves reduced to soft bumps.

At the Cape, 100-foot sheer cliffs with trees for bushy haircuts looked on. The water was Sea Green, accented with the colors and depth of emerald and jade.  Kelp forests dotted the surface and a family of Sea Otters kicked back in its thickets, munching on urchins.

A gray whale surfaced 150 yards off, giving a brief glimpse of head and tail flukes as it dove again.

Rock formations poked through the surface.  Mushrooms here, an eagle sculpture there. A light sea mist provided a soft filter to the shoreline, giving it an ethereal feel.

And I, as a supposed photographer could only look onto this gorgeous tableau, remembering all that camera gear I left back in camp, and think, “sucker!”

36 thoughts on “Sucker!

    1. If it were a wolf in a dirt side forest, or a giant spider in the same forest, I’d be headed back to the car like a guided missile. Most sea creatures are safe to approach (but you wouldn’t find me chumming it up with a great white shark!)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Octopus is a local favourite in Korea. 🙂 I’ve seen ginormous (beautiful) beasts lying in fish tanks — waiting to end up on someone’s dinner plate. The suckers seemed to have a strong hold on the glass surface. In the spirit of curiosity — you’re brave to try to let it grip your hand. I’m not sure I’d do so well underwater or exchange courtesies with an octopus. 🙂

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  2. You described that wolf eel face so perfectly! I was thinking it looked like some ancient dude also. The close-up of the octopus sucker is very cool. I can’t imagine diving in such cold water (even with a wetsuit), but I guess the real fact is that I can’t imagine diving at all! You can do the below the surface stuff; I’ll climb the mountains!

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    1. Take that wolf eel in the picture and expand his head so it’s bigger and rounder, with a flatter face and whiter skin. That’s the old guru I found in a cave under the mountain of water. As for the cold water, I suppose it’s like skiing, if you dress for it it’s not so bad (I wear a dry suit).

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  3. What a great trip, Dave. I think the Wolf Eel would worry me more than the octopus, but that’s probably a reminder from my old snorkelling days in the Middle East – it looks like the kind of beast you’d keep a respectful distance from.

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      1. True. I’ve kind of retired from underwater photography though. My set up is film based and the flash is busted, and my eyesight and the macro level details I used to specialize in don’t get along as well anymore.

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  4. Wow, this is an amazing adventure. Love all the pics. Vic isn’t dive certified yet and he’d love to do this if he ever gets certified. I’m still quite the sissy with water, it’s better in the sense I’ll hop in a small boat now. I’m a bit nervous for our grizzly tour in fall. There’s going to be a 90 min. boat ride to get to the viewing location (little boat). We’ll be going to Vancouver Island again.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. How far are you from Seattle? We’ll be in Seattle for 2 days in Fall and we are trying to get together w some other bloggers. The date is picked no set time or place (working on that currently with Travel Gourmand). Google maps says it’s a 4 hours drive and 8 hours of driving to meet all of us seems really long. If you’re interested, email me: jebusandandrea@outlook.com. We are definitely meeting with Travel Gourmand, Wandering Misha and Global Sojourns are maybes. Otherwise, eventually we’ll get to Portland 🙂 PNW one of the most beautiful areas in the world.

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    1. Guess those “show, don’t tell” lessons are starting to take.

      BTW, congrats on being “Discovered”. You’ve earned it (and of course that particular post is the sort the WordPress editors lap up like candy 😉 )

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The gear is bulkier and heavier, and the vis maybe not as good, but I’m sure you’d do just fine. I can only take credit for the octopus pics, shot years ago. Naturally, the day I encountered that big boy out in the open I had the camera rigged for macro work, ergo the close-ups of the sucker and eye.

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  5. There is nothing quite like the cold water dives in the Puget Sound ~ and your photos bring it all back to me, and your story even more so! Great writing, takes me back to my very young days when I saw my first octopus and truly feared their tentacles 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think when I was a new diver I was afraid of the beak (thanks, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea movie), and the idea the octopus would grab me with one set of arms and the bottom with the other – I’d be stuck. Now I just think they’re cool. Odd, but cool.

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  6. Wonderful post and photos.
    Love diving but haven’t done it in such a long time – such an incredible otherworld down there…had all my gear but it’s stored somewhere int eh world.
    These days I’m happy to don the snorkel, mask, and fins then jump in!

    Liked by 1 person

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