A red rock crab (Cancer productus) hunts for mussels on a piling.
Yesterday, my buddy Erin and I visited the fuel dock at Mukilteo, also known as the tank farm. It is about a 400 meter surface swim east of the T-dock and is one of the best places to dive for Dungeness crab in all of Puget Sound. It is also a very interesting site with tons of fish and invertebrate life, and is far more interesting than the T-dock as far as I’m concerned. Max depth for most of the site is about 18 meters. I have yet to explore all of the site, but hopefully I will be able to get out to the far end of the pier before it gets torn down later this year. The Port of Everett hopes to demolish the pier soon and put in a new ferry terminal. It’s too bad that this interesting and diverse aquatic community is about to be obliterated, and there are a lot of local divers who are very upset about loosing their favorite crabbing grounds.
Below is some footage I shot of the site yesterday afternoon, and I made it into my first “virtual dive”. You can see why this site is so unique – there are literally carpets of Dungeness crab here in the summer by the time crab season opens. They likely favor this location because it is built on their preferred sandy/silty sediment, and the huge clumps of blue mussels growing on the pilings are an important food source. I have also seen huge groups of spotted ratfish here on occasion, but we had no such luck during this dive.
Last weekend, I went for a dive with the MBDC off of Sunrise Beach Park in Gig Harbor. This site is somewhat difficult to access, and involves a long walk up and down a hill in full dive gear past a yard full of angry, snarling Rottweilers. It is also current sensitive, and it is imperative that you check the tides and currents before heading out there. But despite these difficulties, this site is most definitely worth the extra planning and effort.
A large giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) rests underneath a shelf.
The wall begins about 50 yards south of the entry point, about 100 feet from the beach. This site is teeming with life and features a diverse community of fishes and invertebrates, including wolf eels, several species of nudibranchs, and some of the largest giant Pacific octopuses that I have seen while diving in Puget Sound. Green sea urchins and Pacific pink scallops were the most abundant invertebrates at this site. Most of the group drifted south at approximately 50-60 feet for about 20 minutes, and then slowly made our way north again for the rest of the dive. We made it to the wall a bit before slack, so there was relatively little current working against us on the way back.
A beautiful sea lemon nudibranch (Peltodoris nobilis) cruises next to a green sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis).
Below is a video featuring some of the critters we encountered here. Thanks to my buddies Fritz and Joyce for showing me around this cool site!
Over the Valentine’s Day weekend, Matt and I went on a highly romantic camping/ SCUBA trip along the Hood Canal. I had been advised by several of my diver friends that this was a place we needed to visit before leaving Seattle, so we decided to take the initiative and check out this area while the weather and visibility were still nice.
Me and Matt looking scruffy post-dive at Sund Rock.
We decided to spend the night at Potlatch State Park. After setting up our campsite, we geared up for a night dive off the beach, which was located about a quarter mile away. We were concerned about our car being locked in overnight if the rangers decided to close the gates while we were underwater, so we decided to hoof it. This involved dashing across US-101 in our dive gear and weights. We also hit the beach at low tide, so we had to carefully maneuver through slippery cobble and oyster beds in the dark. The site itself wasn’t particularly interesting. It was basically a gently sloping plain of silt featuring some junk scattered here and there, with seagrass beds in the shallows. We observed numerous flatfish, blackbelly eelpouts (Lycodes pacificus), snake pricklebacks (Lumpenus saggita), roughback sculpin (Chitonotus pugetensis), and Northern spearnose poacher (Agonopsis vulsa). Common invertebrates included sea pens and graceful and Dungeness crabs, and many of the female crabs were carrying eggs.
The next morning, we began our day of diving at Octopus Hole. This site is located right off of US-101. We parked on turnout on the eastern side of the highway large enough to accommodate 3 to 4 vehicles. The entrance is at the base of a steep hill, and we had to amble over boulders in our dive gear in order to reach it. It was definitely worth the effort, however. After a short surface swim about 50 feet offshore at about 145 degrees, we descended in about 15 feet of water and hung out there in order to give my ears time to clear. The visibility was superb, and there were large aggregations of plumose anemones and shoals of striped seaperch (Embiotoca lateralis) and copper rockfish (Sebastes caurinus) hanging out around the top of a 30 foot wall. The base of the wall was located at about 60 feet, and hundreds of blackeye gobies (Rhinogobiops nicholsii) swarmed the rocky bottom. We headed south along the wall near the bottom, and ascended to the top of the wall as we swam back. Current was not a huge problem, although we did encounter a bit on the surface as we made our way back to the entry point.
Our next stop was SundRock, which is located just south of Octopus Hole along US-101. Although there is free public access, it involves a trip down a steep, wooded hill in full dive gear and and extensive surface swim. Bearing this in mind, we decided to visit Hood Sport ‘n Dive, a local dive shop that offers convenient access to the site via their private beach for $16 per person. Upon seeing the free option, we both agreed that it was money well spent.
It is a fairly complex dive site with lots of structure and things to see. A local diver that we encountered recommended that we head out to the North Wall to begin, and then end the dive in the “Fishbowl”. Heeding his advice, we swam out to the appropriate buoy and descended along the line. The visibility was quite poor in the first 10 feet, but rapidly cleared up to about 35 feet as soon as we made it past the surface layer. The top of the wall was located at about 30 feet, and drops to about 80 feet at its deepest. It featured numerous nooks and crannies that contained some of the largest wolf eels that I have ever encountered. There were large aggregations of rockfish belonging to several species, including copper, quillback (Sebastes maliger), vermillion (S. miniatus), and black (S. melanops). We cruised along the bottom of the wall for the first part of the dive, and swam back along the top, where we encountered several angry lingcods guarding multiple clutches of eggs. We did our safety stop in the Fishbowl area and hung out with some large schools of striped seaperch before ending the dive.
Overall, it was definitely an interesting excursion with some excellent dive sites. Although the visibility was excellent, it would be interesting to see if there were any more fish present during the summer months.
On February 1, while everyone was busy watching the Superbowl, we led a small group of Marker Buoys on two dives at Keystone Jetty. This site is located near the Port Townsend ferry terminal on Whidbey Island. It is a bit current sensitive – there is some danger of getting swept around the end of the jetty and into the ferry terminal if you dive it on an ebb tide. Both of our dives began just before slack, so we were able to enjoy this amazing site without having to swim against the current.
The main attraction at Keystone is the abundant marine life. You don’t need to go any deeper than 50-60′ to encounter a diverse community of fishes and invertebrates, including kelp greenlings, lingcod, and numerous species of rockfish, sculpins, and nudibranchs. The abundant plumose anemones covering the boulders are truly a sight to behold. One can also dive the pilings on the east side of the inlet.
Many species of fish reproduce this time of year in Puget Sound, including lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus), the largest member of the greenling family (Hexagrammidae). These fish typically spend the majority of their time resting on the bottom and pay little attention to divers, but during the winter, the males ferociously guard their eggs, which resemble clumps of styrofoam. Near the beginning of this video, a small male lunges at the camera in an attempt to keep Matt away from his nest.
We also encountered two large giant Pacific octopus (Enterocopus dofleini). This is the largest species of octopus in the world, often exceeding 100 lbs. However, they only have a lifespan of three to five years. They are nocturnal and spend the daylight hours sleeping in their dens, but you can sneak a peek at their tentacles if you are brave enough to shine your flashlight in there.
Yesterday morning, my friend Erin and I met at Seacrest Park for a leisurely dive at Cove 3. It is often overlooked and written off as a training site due to the popularity of the adjacent Cove 2, which admittedly boasts more structure and marine life. Indeed, much of Cove 3 is comprised of unimpressive fields of sand and sea lettuce, but the pilings and rock piles on the north side of the site are definitely a fun place to play.
The visibility was excellent, at times exceeding 30 feet. This is typical for Puget Sound this time of year, as there is not yet enough sunlight to support the plankton blooms that cloud the water during the spring and summer. The most common fish species at this site appeared to be striped seaperch (Embiotoca lateralis) and shiner perch (Cymatogaster aggregata), which circled the sunken pilings in large schools. Other resident fish included painted greenlings (Oxylebius pictus), kelp greenlings (Hexagrammos decagrammus), quillback rockfish (Sebastes maliger), buffalo sclupins (Enophrys bison), red Irish lords (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus), rock soles (Lepidopsetta bilineata), and spotted ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei), a distant relative of sharks. We also spotted several clumps of squid eggs, as well as moon snails (Euspira lewisii) and diamondback Tritonia nudibranchs (Tritonia festiva) on the sandy bottom.
I was able to capture most of the dive using Matt’s new GoPro. Click on the link below to see a compilation video of some of the interesting creatures that we discovered at this site.
Yesterday morning, I joined several other divers from the Marker Buoy Dive Club at Three Tree Point. Since the visibility in Puget Sound has been so good recently and life is still abundant, I decided that this would be a good time to try my hand at underwater photography. I used Matt’s Canon 5D with a wide angle lens.
I decided to do a preliminary run in the shallows just to get used to the new equipment. While I was there, I came across a bay pipefish (Syngnathus leptorhyncus), just hanging out on the bottom in about 6 feet of water. This was apparently a rare sighting – some of the other divers had not seen one in years.
After getting comfortable with the camera, I exited the water and waited for my dive buddies to get ready. We descended in 6 feet of water, made sure all of our equipment was in order, and swam down the sandy slope.
On the way down, I encountered several white-lined Dirona nudibranchs (Dirona albolineata), sculpins, mottled sea stars, and hermit crabs amongst the kelp. The sea stars were few and far between, but those we found showed no sign of the wasting disease that has devastated populations of numerous sea star species on the west coast over the past year. Joyce also spotted a tiny Pacific spiny lumpsucker resting on some kelp, but I didn’t have the right kind of lens to get a good photo of it.
A white-lined dirona (Dirona albolineata).
We got down to about 80 feet and began to encounter some sunken structures, such as a small boat and a pile of tires. Life was abundant in and around these features. Numerous medium-sized rockfish were tucked into the nooks and crannies, accompanied by gunnels and painted greenlings. We located a small wolf eel hiding out in some pipes as well. Several spotted ratfish flapped around the perifery, and flatfish scooted about in the sand.
A baby wolf eel hides in a pipe.
A local holocephalan and my favorite Pacific northwest fish, the spotted ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei).
After about 45 minutes, we gradually ascended up the slope and did our safety stop at 20′. At this point, the batteries in the strobes were beginning to fail, so I was unable to get many good pictures of the life in the shallows. I did manage to capture a decent image of a rock sole, however.
It was a fun dive overall. I did get a bit cold, as my drysuit has a leaky exhaust valve on the left arm that I have yet to repair. My surface air consumption rate has gotten even better, coming out to 0.35 cfm. I lasted 55 minutes on a low pressure steel 72 tank, which is pretty good, if I do say so myself. I’m looking forward to doing more underwater photography in the future – hopefully I’ll learn the tricks of the trade and come out with some cooler pics in the coming months.