The killing of a giant pacific octopus at Cove 2 in Alki has sparked outrage in the local diving community and beyond about whether it should be legal to hunt the charismatic animals at the popular dive location — or at all.
Craig Bartlett, spokesman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says it’s legal to hunt the animals, and that the fisherman involved, a 19-year-old and his friend, had a valid shellfish license when he captured the octopus at about 4:45 p.m. on Halloween.
Diver Mark Saiget snapped this photo of a diver holding the pacific giant octopus he hunted at Cove 2 at Alki. Killing the octopus has sparked outrage in the dive community and beyond and sparked a movement to designate the diving area as a state Marine Protected Area.
Photo by Mark Saiget
Outrage over the incident has sparked the department to look into whether fishing regulations that allow hunting octopus should be changed. “This incident has compelled us to look into this, to see if this practice should be allowed,” Bartlett said. “There are a lot of ethical issues involved with fishing and hunting. It isn’t just a biological decision we make here. It’s also about what society will tolerate.”
Bartlett said the WDFW determined that the animal was legally hunted at Cove 2, with a valid shellfish license. The catch limit for giant Pacific octopus — the world’s largest — is one per day. The hunter at first said the octopus was sitting on eggs, but then said it wasn’t. He lured it out of its lair by irritating it by banging two metal rods together underwater, Bartlett said.
It is illegal in Washington to flush an octopus out of its den with chemical irritants — but scaring or irritating the animals with noise is allowed.
Dive instructor Bob Bailey of Federal Way said he was just arriving at Cove 2 with a student when they encountered two divers in the water. “He said, ‘Hey are they taking an octopus?’ ” Bailey said of his student. “I looked over and there are two divers dragging an octopus and I said, ‘Maybe they found a dead one. And he said ‘No, a couple of minutes ago they were punching it on the surface.’ I walked over to them and it was evident it was still alive.”
They exchanged words. And while the hunt was legal, Bailey said it shouldn’t have been, at that location
“I don’t have an issue with hunting. People dive for all sorts of reasons. I don’t have a problem with it. It is not whether you hunt, it is where you hunt, and there are appropriate and inappropriate places to do that.
“People come from all over the world to dive here and see the octopus that live here.”
He believes the designated diving area at Cove 2 should be made a state Marine Protected Area, where fishing is restricted. He stressed he would want the boundary drawn to include the popular diving spot, but exclude a nearby fishing pier.
Bailey went home and posted photos he and a friend took from the encounter on dive web sites. “It went viral, I had over 100 emails yesterday, I am getting emails from South Africa, Florida, Georgia, Australia.”
Meanwhile, Bob Davidson, president and CEO of the Seattle Aquarium said the aquarium, which was active in helping to protect the state’s existing marine protected areas, is going to advocate for protection for Cove 2.
“All indications are that it would be a very suitable addition, and we are going to start putting together the argument right now,” Davidson said. “The variety of marine life, the value it has for various communities … it is important to take a step like this.”
Octopus are one of Puget Sound’s most intriguing animals. Their population is believed to be healthy, and they are found throughout the Puget Sound. Some of the biggest lurk in the depths of the Tacoma Narrows, where Bob Sizemore, research scientist at WDFW said a 100-pound giant Pacific octopus was once captured measuring 18 feet from tip to tip of its tentacles.
They are charismatic animals, always one of the most popular in the aquarium, and a thrill for divers.
“You look them in the eye and they are definitely looking back at you,” Bailey said. “They understand things. People come from all over the world to see our octopus, and that site at Cove 2 is the number one place in Puget Sound to see them.”
C.J. Casson, director of life sciences at the aquarium, said the animals fascinate kids as they change color, from white, to red, and everything in between..”They are the coolest invertebrate, they are even trainable,” Casson said. One octopus at the aquarium learned to unscrew a jar to get at the shrimp inside, Casson said.
Octopus also have a dramatic life story.
Females when they are ready to give birth den up, attach themselves to the inside of the den and close up the front with rocks. They then for three months hang still, without eating, bathing up to 100,000 eggs they have laid the size of a grain of rice with fresh water breathed through their siphon until the eggs hatch. Then she goes off to die.
A female octopus on eggs at Cove 2.
Photo by Bob Bailey
To see the amazing video of a giant Pacific octopus hatch taken by a local diver, see Sandi Doughton’s blog post in Field Notes.
Sizemore remembers well his encounters with giant Pacific octopus under water. “They will look at you and be very aware of you, they seem to have an awareness and intelligence about them. You see other species in the water, and there is kind of a glazed, staring look to their eye. With octopus their eyes are watching you, they are taking notice.”
What do you think? Should it be legal to hunt octopus? Should Cove 2 be protected? Comment on this blog. And, weigh in with the state Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission:
600 Capitol Way N.
Olympia, WA 98501-1091
Miranda Wecker, Chair
Gary Douvia, Vice Chair