Giant Octopus Killing Spurs Divers to Action

Divers from around the world come to the US Pacific Northwest to see the remarkable giant Pacific octopus (know locally as the GPO). On dive trips, when divers hear we are from Seattle the first comment is often how the would love to see one of our GPOs. The largest of all octopus, the adult GPOs average around 30 lbs. with arm spans of 14 ft. Some have found that are almost double that size. The highly intelligent GPO is equally as sacred to most PNW divers as dolphins and  whales. Dive reports almost always brag about how many GPOs were seen on the dive. GPOs local to dive sites are often studied, filmed and watched through out their life.

But on Wednesday, October 30, 2012 the joyful chatter on the Pacific Northwest area Facebook and e-bulletin boards came to an abrupt cliff and fell into sadness, despair and anger. This emotional transfiguration was sparked by this posting, by Bob (Grateful Diver) Baily on the Northwest Dive club e-bulletin board (NWDC).

The shot heard round the diving world (excerpted):

So I’m pulling into the parking lot at Cove 2 (a popular West Seattle dive site) around 4:45 today. My buddy Mark is already there. As I’m getting out of the car I see two guys surface swimming in, towing what looks like a large octopus. I said to Mark “what are they doing? They must’ve found a dead one somewhere.” He said no … they were punching it as they were towing it in, and it was obviously alive. So I walked down to the water’s edge as they were dragging it ashore and asked them what they were doing. “Hunting octopus”, says one of them … “I went to school for this, I know what I’m doing.” “Oh, you went to octopus hunting school … and did they tell you it’s seriously uncool to take octopus from popular dive sites? People come here to see those.” “So”, he says … “it’s legal, and there’s lots of them down there. I might come back tomorrow and get another one.” I tried explaining to the guy that female octos use this cove to lay their eggs. He told me this one was on eggs … now it’s not…

This guy was a young fellow, serious smart-ass, from the gear I’d say a fairly new diver. My dive buddy took some pictures of him and his pickup truck, with the octopus in the back. We’ll post them later. Lundy also got some shots. I’d like to identify this fellow … and if possible find out where he’s getting his fills … and where he went to “octopus hunting school”. When I tried explaining to him that I don’t have a problem with hunting, but it’s bad form to take these critters from popular dive sites he said he didn’t care … that there was nothing we can do to prevent him.

The posting and photo started a conflagration of posts on this board and excepts on other boards, Facebook and twitter account throughout and beyond the Pacific Northwest. In just 2 days the NWDC board received nearly 500 posts to the topic and over 20,000 views. The initial grief stage quickly morphed into rage against the perpetrators. You could visuals the community breaking out their electronic pitchforks. The veterans of PNW diving, who regularly commiserate about the cliques and backstabbing among the local dive shops were astounded when everyone joined the cause and vowed to work together to stop the killing. No one had seen anything like or had even dreamed this dive community could unite at all, let alone so quickly.

The local news media and tv stations KING and KIRO both ran stories. The fish and wildlife department was flooded with calls asking, “was it legal” and “how can we stop this”. Both the news and social media acknowledged that killing was legal. But the message from the diving community was clear. It may be legal but it was not right to go into our dive sites and kill a GPO this way, especially if it was nurturing its eggs.

Maybe the regulation was so lax because no one ever questioned the law or maybe because it was written before the octopus’ intelligence was know.  The law simple reads only that the octopus must be caught with hands or instrument which does not penetrate the octopus, except that octopus taken while angling with hook and line may be retained. No chemicals are allowed which was a common practice in earlier times. There are no size or time restrictions or limitation when the octopus is with eggs. What truly scares divers is that the limit is one per day year round.

GPO dens are easy for observant divers to find just by watching for the surrounding middens. And since the are in a den it would not be at all hard to grab them out. It has been likened to fishing in a bathtub or hunting in a zoo. Combined this with the lax regulations and these, or any divers could wipe out all the octopus at any of the local dive sites, maybe for years, in only a few days. Then move onto the next.

After the identities of the “perps” were discovered, it took cooler heads to stifle the urges of few to take inappropriate action. Leaders in the dive community and other volunteers are already brainstorming and meeting with officials to try to get the dive site (and others) deemed off limits to octopus hunters. Additionally nearly all local dive shops and charters have chimed in that the have banned the two divers from their shops for life. As of this writing the story is just going viral and divers from other areas are showing support. One Facebooker reported that a group of resorts in the Caribbean have also banned the two hunters from their properties.

We have seen a few postings from one of the hunters who seem un-repentant and claimed the threats he received will only make him want to continue his octo killing spree. He also said he did not need the shops air as he was getting air from a neighbor with a home compressor.

The upside of the incident is the can be used as an astounding example of the speed at which positive action can be mobilized when you combine divers working together and social media. As John Lennon says IMAGINE. What else could divers working together

A petion Please sign and share this petition to protect the giant Pacific octopus. http://m.ipetitions.com/#petition/giantpacificoctopus

You can see the full postings on the NWDC board at: tp://www.nwdiveclub.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=19454

Another fine article can be found here:

Beloved but unprotected: Octopus ‘harvest’ at Seacrest brings calls for protection