Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Gentle Giants. What to do when you find your dive buddy with a Giant Pacific Octopus on her head.

The Kraken?! Devilfish?!

Scary?! Dangerous?! Alien?

Suggest such things about a Giant Pacific Octopus to any scuba diver respectful of marine life who has had an encounter with one of these gentle giants, and there is going to be a very strong response shattering such mythology.

As it always goes, fear and mythology thrive where there is absence of knowledge.

Any negative encounters between divers and Giant Pacific Octopuses that I am aware of, result from divers manhandling them “insisting” on an encounter or involve individuals that are habituated to being fed by humans.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus, Copper Rockfish and dive buddy Natasha Dickinson.
Read about this remarkable encounter below. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

We, as divers, are so fortunate to come across Giant Pacific Octopuses in their world where they are invertebrate royalty. We are able to meet them on their turf, and thereby know how inquisitive and intelligent they are. We know they are mighty, highly adaptable predators.

And, we know too, when we look into their eyes, that observation and assessment is being reciprocated.

That preamble was necessary before sharing what happened today.

This did . . . .

©2015 Jackie Hildering

1. Dive buddy Natasha Dickinson during the remarkable Giant Pacific Octopus encounter.
See the Copper Rockfish too? ©2015 Jackie Hildering

I had been taking photographs of Lingcod males guarding their egg masses and noted that my dive buddy Natasha Dickinson was signalling me with her light, indicating that she had found something of particular interest.

I took a few more shots and then swam towards her and found . . .  my dive buddy with a Giant Pacific Octopus completely covering her face. Sorry that I missed that shot. I was so in awe of what I saw.

Natasha is an incredibly skilled and experienced diver with a deep respect for marine life. She was clearly not afraid, nor was the octopus.

Natasha had taken the precaution of putting her hand over the regulator in her mouth in case the octopus took an interest in that but otherwise, allowed her to explore.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

2. Natasha is also a master of facial expressions that relay 1000 words. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

I would learn later that, while waiting for me she had been watching the Copper Rockfish that you will see in all but one of the photos in this blog. This rockfish stuck very near the octopus. A buddy?  That I don’t know but escorting a Giant Pacific Octopus on the hunt is a really good strategy. As the octopus flushes out animals from under rocks with his/her arms, the rockfish can grab the prey that do not end up under the octopus’ mantle.

While observing the rockfish, the Giant Pacific Octopus had slowly advanced toward Natasha and she remained where she was, intrigued at what would happened and having a contingency plan

©2015 Jackie Hildering

3. Octopus flashing white as it pulls on the clasp ©2015 Jackie Hildering

When I started to take photos the Giant Pacific Octopus gradually backed away but had taken a particular interest in a clasp at the end of a bungee cord on Natasha’s gear.

You can see how her arm was entwined around the cord and how there was some flashing of white in the skin. You can also see the Copper Rockfish!

©2015 Jackie Hildering

4. Pulling a little harder! ©2015 Jackie Hildering

©2015 Jackie Hildering

5. One of the photos that suggests this was a female.  ©2015 Jackie Hildering

I believe this octopus was a female, thanks to feedback I received from self-admitted Cephalopod Geek supreme, Keely Langford of the Vancouver Aquarium. Octopus males have a “hectocotylus arm”. In Giant Pacific Octopuses, it is the third arm on their right. The hectocotylus stores the spermatophores – packets of sex cells, two of which are handed over to a receptive female who stores them until ready to fertilize her eggs.

Having the good fortune to get photos of the right side of this octopus, particularly #5 and #7, allowed me to see that the top of third arm on the right is not differentiated and that therefore, this was a female.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

6. Just after letting go. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

Back to recounting our adventure . . . .

After about a minute or two of gently tugging on the bungee cord, Ms. Giant Pacific Octopus let go.

Natasha swam a bit further off, allowing me a few minutes to marvel and photograph this beauty – the Giant Pacific Octopus AND the Copper Rockfish.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

7. Another photo that allowed me a good look at the 3rd arm on the right. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

©2015 Jackie Hildering

8. Ms. Octopus with the Copper Rockfish particularly near. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

©2015 Jackie Hildering

9. At one point, she also slowly advanced towards me but when I retreated a bit, so did she. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

©2015 Jackie Hildering

10. Walking towards me.  ©2015 Jackie Hildering

When Natasha circled back, the octopus flashed a bit of white as you can see in the image below. Recognition?

We both found ourselves waving goodbye when we, regretfully, had to return to our terrestrial world.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

11. Giant Pacific Octopus, Copper Rockfish, Kelp Greenling and dive buddy. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

So what to do when you find a Giant Pacific Octopus on your dive buddy’s head? Observe, marvel, take some photos, share and maybe it can help dispel some of the mythology and vilification about these fabulous marine neighbours.

Eye-to-eye with a gentle giant. My peering into a Giant Pacific Octopus' den earlier this month (using a macro lens).  ©Jackie Hildering

12.. Eye-to-eye with a gentle giant. My peering into a Giant Pacific Octopus’ den earlier this month (using a macro lens). ©Jackie Hildering

Please note, I have shared our experience to reduce the misunderstanding and demonification of octopus NOT to stimulate diver attempts at interactions. It was an unsolicited gift experienced by those with a very high level of dive experience; knowledge of octopus (and dive buddy) behaviour; and solid safety protocols.

Giant Pacific Octopus Facts:

  • Enteroctopus dofleini is the world’s largest octopod species with the maximum records for size being 9.8 m from arm tip to arm tip and 198.2 kg.
  • Average life expectancy is only 3 to 4 years.
  • Like other octopuses:
    • They have a beak with venom, nine brains, three hearts, blue blood, and their skin is capable of detecting chemicals (as our nose does).
    • Their ink is no just a distraction for predators but contains the chemical tyrosinase which causes eye irritation and messes up the predators senses of smell and taste.
    • They are jet propelled and are capable of incredible camouflage where they can not only change the colour of their skin but also its texture to blend in with their surroundings.
    • They mate only once. From the Vic High Marine website regarding Giant Pacific Octopuses: “Females die directly after they have finished laying and guarding to their egg however males live a slightly longer time. Octopus reproduction starts when a male uses a specialized tentacle [sic, octopuses have arms not tentacles] to pass two spermatophores (sperm packages) to the female. Once given the sperm the female stores the package until she is ready to fertilize the eggs.  Before a female is ready to fertilize the eggs she has to find a suitable den. This search can take the future mother up to one month! Once the perfect place is found the female shuts herself in using rocks. From there she fertilizes each egg and gathers them in bundle of approximately 200. She hangs each group of eggs from the ceiling of the cave. This is a long process because on average a female octopus can lay up to 50,000 eggs.  The incubation time for octopus eggs are six and a half months.  During this time the female stays in the cave, not even leaving to eat, attending to the eggs by constantly blowing oxygenated water on to them. When the baby octopuses hatch they are referred to as paralave. These tiny juveniles swim up to the surface joining other zoo plankton and spending weeks feeding on tiny phytoplankton. Once they have developed enough mass they descend to the benthic zone.  As for the mother, she waits until all the eggs have hatched then emerges from the cave and dies shortly afterwards due to the starvation she endured during the months she spent devoted to tending her eggs.
  • Excellent on-line resources on octopuses.
  • Best book on Giant Pacific Octopuses –  The Giant Pacific Octopus and Other Cephalopods of the Pacific Coast by James A. Cosgrove and Neil McDaniel.
  • And the plural really is “octopuses” not “octopi”! See #3 at this link if you are doubtful.

Great thanks to Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Marine Services for making this dive possible.

Media coverage so thankfully resulting from this blog includes:

 

17 Responses to “Gentle Giants. What to do when you find your dive buddy with a Giant Pacific Octopus on her head.”

  1. CATHERINE EWING

    It is 5AM on a Monday morning and I am playing “Find The Fish”….the Monday edition….what a way to start the week. AND….I found the Rockfish in almost every instance…this of course means a buy for Friday…:) I can’t help but think as I read and wallow in these spectacular photos that a book of the narratives following your adventures and discoveries accompanied by your amazing photography would be magical. I know ….I know….but at some point you might have some time and it would be amazing. One of these days I will put together a sample page or two from your site and show you what I mean. Thank you for sharing what you do Jackie. This is such a incredible world, one that I have longed to be a part of all my life and you bring it to me with such clarity, humour, insight and respect that I often feel that I am diving right along side you. You rock Goddess of The Deep!

    Reply
    • The Marine Detective

      Hello Catherine – THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. I have dared make some bold steps recently to clear up time and head space to see what I can do to expand the reach of TMD. Books are a big part of that and so value any and all insights! Your feedback comes at a time too where I am questioning my daring and reading the last sentences made my heart swell. You express EXACTLY what I want to achieve.

      Reply
  2. evstarr

    i love all your encounters but this actually brought me close to tears. I know that Natasha must have been absolutely enthralled and grateful for this experience. I can only hope that one day this happens for my Jacqui also. She loves them so.

    Reply
    • Good Jacqui

      Thank you Evie, but I like my octopi at arms length!! this was magical to watch when these two surfaced though!! We never know what amazing encounter we will have.. and everyone is so remarkable! Amazing that Jackie got the images!!

      Reply
  3. Abby Schwarz

    Beautiful, and thanks as always for sharing!. In studying damselfish behaviour in Australia (GBR) we dove in one place 2x/day for 4 days and the fish in the neighborhood got to know us. They began feeding on the plankton caught in my (longish) hair, but when our research subjects joined in we had to move! They were just as interested in us as we were in them and wouldn’t leave us alone! We had to find a new dive site with naive fish, but what a profound connecting experience it was.

    Reply
  4. Kathy

    I cared for a Giant Pacific Octopus at the Art Fiero Marine Lab in Port Angeles, WA, on the strait of Juan de Fuca. . All of the animals displayed there were only kept captive for 2 months or so, then returned to the place where they were captured.
    “My” octopus was a female named Wanda Fuca (haha) & she was a very big octopus; her arms were longer than mine. My job was to clean her tank & from the first, she was curious & friendly, reaching her arm out of the water to encircle her arm around mine. She also liked to touch my face. In turn, she allowed me to touch her all over, & her skin felt like silk.
    She loved her Dungeness crab dinners. She liked the chase & she liked to play with her dinner before she ate it.
    We learned not to house the octopuses next to the Wolf Eels, since they hate each other & would become very upset at the sight of each other. (Wolf eels, despite their appearances, are also quite gentle & curious. I cleaned their tanks too.)

    Reply
  5. JM in HMBay

    Thank you for sharing such a sacred and beautiful moment with those of us who may never experience such an encounter. Myth dispelling and magical! Amazed by the collective grace demonstrated by all…what a gift!

    Reply
  6. Margaret Crystal

    I had just tuned onto global 21 TV of Vancouver when the reader spoke about the octopus/rockfish. I quickly wrote down the E mail and immediately passed it on to diver Dennis Watson of Kamloops, who has been on dives at Pt. McNeill in 2014, and fellow diver Marjorie Crystal of Kamloops. As I’m a ‘land person’ I was delighted to view the pictures and read the information, and will be watching for further feedback from other divers’ encounters. Thanks for the chance to see ‘The Other World’.

    Reply
  7. elmediat

    Excellent post. beautiful photographs & very informative. I clicked your invisible like button .:)

    Reply
  8. graham winter

    thank you for this documented exchange with Ms. G.P.O. I loved the pics and info about this beautiful animal. Natasha has many skills but she truly has a gift with silent communication( she has been a hair client for years. Very happy to know your blog and look forward to more! Graham

    Reply
    • The Marine Detective

      Thanks so for the comment Graham. Had to smiley broadly regarding Nat and silent communication. Her hair by the way is beautifully cut and she has spoken of you and your skill.

      Reply

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