Category Archives: SCUBA diving

Crabstravaganza 2014!

On Sunday, Matt and I successfully conducted our first crab hunt. I had been wanting to do this since we first arrived in Seattle, and was planning on a bountiful harvest of succulent Dungeness this summer, but unfortunately, fate had other plans. So when I found out that crab season had been extended until December 30 for certain marine zones in Washington, I was ecstatic. We decided to conduct our hunt at the Mukilteo T-dock, where I have seen throngs of Dungeness and red rock crabs during past dives.

Since Matt had not been out in open water for a while, we decided to warm up with a leisurely dive at Edmonds first. The visibility was still excellent, over 30 feet in some areas. Massive schools of shiner perch, pile perch, and tubesnout swirled around us. We also encountered a spotted ratfish, quillback rockfish, cabezon, and numerous massive lingcod. White-lined dirona nudibranchs covered the seafloor.

After a relaxing 50 minute dive, we filled up our tanks again and headed to Mukilteo. The visibility was excellent here as well, but we did encounter a bit of a current as we headed into deeper water. However, we did not need to go past 40 feet to harvest some decent-sized crab. Most of them were congregating under the dock, as expected, along with dozens of spotted ratfish. For an idea of what it was like, here’s a video of some freedivers rounding up Dungies near the oil dock, which is several hundred yards north of where we were diving. The crab population was not nearly as dense at the T-dock, but we still managed to get a good haul.

It took us about 50 minutes to round up 4 Dungeness and 4 red rock crabs of the appropriate size and gender. We tossed them in the cooler and headed home to feast on our bounty. Matt steamed them and served them with red potatoes, which was a simple but delicious meal. We had about a pound of meat leftover, which we plan on using for crab cakes. We will definitely be going back for more soon!

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Crabs in the cooler!

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Three of our delicious Dungies, steamed and served with red potatoes. Nice presentation by Matt!

Three Tree Point

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.

Bay pipe

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.

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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.

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A white-lined dirona (Dirona albolineata).

Nudi and Crab

Sculpin

stars

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.

Rockfish

Wolf Eel

A baby wolf eel hides in a pipe.

Ratfish

A local holocephalan and my favorite Pacific northwest fish, the spotted ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei).

Boat

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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.

Rock Sole

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.

Celebrating my 100th dive!

It’s official: last night, I did my 100th dive at the T-dock in Mukilteo. This is not a particularly overwhelming accomplishment, considering the fact that it took me a little less than ten years to accrue this much experience. A traumatic dive during my advanced open water course in the Florida Keys turned me off to the sport for many years (perhaps I will blog about this at a later date). In addition, paddling around in the carp-infested mud pits of Michigan and Ohio is completely underwhelming, and Great Lakes boat charters tend to be expensive, so I didn’t bother diving very often while I was living in Ann Arbor. However, there are definitely more opportunities for quality shore diving in Puget Sound, and I’ve been taking full advantage of it over the past year or so. The extra practice is paying off – I consider myself a much stronger diver than I was a year ago, and I am now quite comfortable going out in less than optimal environmental conditions.

I met up with three fellow Marker Buoys near the Mukilteo ferry terminal at dusk and proceeded to suit up in the rain. Things were pretty churned up in the 0-25′ depth interval, with 3-4′ of visibility at best. My buddy and I ended up getting separated from the other two people in our group at the beginning of the dive because of this, so we decided to go ahead and explore on our own. We descended to about 65′ and gradually zigzagged our way up the slope. Not a lot was out last night – there were the usual Dungeness and hermit crabs scampering about, but not much in the way of fish. I spotted a few shiner perch and tubesnouts in the shallows, but the deeper areas were pretty desolate. We only stayed down for around 30 minutes due to the fact that my buddy was diving in a wetsuit and was beginning to get cold.

Overall, it was not the epic milestone dive that I was hoping for, but it was another chance to get out and practice. I suppose I will have to start planning for a 200th dive somewhere in the Indo-Pacific or Costa Rica. Or perhaps the Galapagos? Considering how long it took me to gain this much experience, I will probably have plenty of time to plan and save up for my next grand adventure.

Another weekend dive at Edmonds

On the evening of June 30, Matt and I dove at Edmonds Underwater Park once again with three fellow members of the Marker Buoy Dive club. The visibility was extremely good, often exceeding 8 meters, and the tide was about a meter above mean high tide. After a long surface swim past the jetty, we descended at the first buoy and swam west along the trail.

Matt brought out the macro lens and was able to capture some good shots of the extensive fish and invertebrate life present on all of the structures. The usual enormous lingcod and cabezon were present, along with numerous painted greenlings, copper rockfish, and assorted sculpins that were too small and quick to identify with any certainty. Huge schools of tubesnout were hanging around some of the sunken small boats near the western edge of the park. Several varieties of nudibranchs were out and about, including clown, opalescent, and frosted. We also ran across couple of fist-sized sea lemons. Almost all of the Dungeness crab we encountered were still locked in the “mating embrace”.

Overall, it was an excellent dive. According to several veteran Puget Sound divers, it is unusual to see so little plankton present this time of year. A week later, the hot, sunny weather contributed to a substantial bloom and poor conditions during our subsequent dives at Keystone Jetty and Redondo. Now I understand why most divers look forward to winter here. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted…

Here are a few of Matt’s photos from the Edmond’s dive:

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A clown nudibranch (Triopha catalinae) shows off its fluffy gills.

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A graceful decorator crab (Oregonia gracilis) flees the scene.

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A painted greening (Oxylebius pictus) tries to conceal itself in a clump of algae.

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One of the dozens of fearsome lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) at Edmonds. Some individuals were in excess of 1.5 meters long.

Edmonds dive report

Located in a relatively quiet northern Seattle suburb is one of Puget Sound’s most beloved dive sites, Edmond’s Underwater Park. Set aside as a marine sanctuary in 1970, it is maintained by volunteer divers who have established a gridded trail system known as the Bruce Higgins Underwater Trails. Various man-made objects have been sunk there over the years to provide habitat for the diverse community of fish and invertebrates. This, in turn, attracts thousands of SCUBA divers to the park each year. Fortunately for us, this awesome dive site is located a mere 20 minutes from our house.

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We decided to dive here this morning with a group of six other members of Marker Buoy, an extremely active dive club in the Seattle area that boasts over 100 members. One of the benefits of belonging to this organization is that many of the members have acquired an extensive knowledge of numerous local dive sites, so it is easy to find experienced people to dive with on a regular basis.

We entered the water at high tide and did a surface swim to the second buoy past the jetty. There was a dense bloom of Noctiluna, a dinoflagellate that is frequently responsible for creating the infamous “red tides”. Luckily, once we descended, the visibility was relatively good (approximately 20 feet).

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There were many fish out today, including several brown rockfish and painted greenlings. These species seem to prefer hanging around the structure provided by the buoy moorings and several large concrete tubes. The rest of the landscape is typically inhabited by extremely large lingcod and cabezon. These species have typically behaved somewhat aggressively toward us in the past, but seemed to be more subdued this morning. The sandy areas were crawling with dungeness crabs and hundreds of small shrimp that were moving too fast for me to get a good look at them. Every square inch of the structures was packed with invertebrates, including thousands of tiny barnacles desperately grabbing for drifting food particles. Many large sunflower sea stars (some approaching two feet in diameter), had positioned themselves over the barnacle clusters with their stomachs extended, slowly dissolving and feeding off of them. Other species were also present, including mottled, ochre, and giant pink sea stars. We were also able to spot several sharpnose, kelp, decorator, and maroon hermit crabs, lined chitons, and a couple of ridiculously large sea lemon nudibranchs.

Overall, this was a nice dive. I got in 47 minutes of bottom time on a steel 72 tank with 650 psi to spare, and my average depth was 27 feet. The limiting factor today was the cold; there is still a leak somewhere in the left arm of my drysuit, and I am unsure if it is a small tear in the fabric or a leaky dump valve. I will definitely have to examine this issue further in the pool, where it is nice and warm 😉

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