A Harem of Octopi

On the second dive of my second day on the Peace, I saw a fish the size of a sedan. It was a black sea bass. It was huge. I encountered the bass hanging out under some kelp at a depth of about forty feet. He was wary of my dive buddy Steve and I, so we couldn’t get a great look at him. The visibility was maybe thirty feet, so the giant fish sort of loomed in the distance, a giant dark being. Other than the black sea bass, who we followed for some ways, there was not much to see at the Italian Gardens dive site. It is mostly a gravel bottom with some sheepshead crabs, an anemone here and there and huge ropes of kelp reaching up towards the surface. In some places the kelp strands are ten feet apart, in other places the giant sea weed is only inches apart. After about thirty minutes, we started our ascent and finally climbed back on the boat. As usual, there were copious amounts of food awaiting all the divers at the termination of the dive. Lunch was delicious as usual. Afterwards, all the passengers relaxed momentarily. Actually, I relaxed, everyone else on the boat began to fiddle compulsively with their cameras. The crew of the boat pulled up anchor and we motored back out to ship rock island. Soon enough we were gearing up again. At this point I could don my drysuit in less than five minutes, which I considered a huge accomplishment. I hopped into the water after my dive buddy Andy. I was deemed worthy to carry the camera again by Joe, though this time another passenger had lent me a retractable lanyard thing, so I had no risk of losing it. Andy and I made our descent and set off to look for critters. Of course there’s not too far to go since the marine life is so abundant. In a minute or so Andy was off photographing kelp while I searched in the many rock crevices for some interesting critters. It wasn’t long before I found about ten spiny lobsters hanging out upside down in a small rocky overhang. They swayed back and forth and stared at me from under the rock with their eyestalks. I grabbed my camera, pumped at an opportunity to take a picture of something exciting and recognizable. I bent the strobe arm and pointed it towards the inside of the small cage. I pushed the camera as far in front of me as the nervous lobsters would allow. The strobe was on and lit. The camera was on and ready. I framed up my shot and pressed the shutter button….nothing. I tried again. I pressed the buttons Joe had instructed me to press. I tried again. Nothing. Aggravated, I retrieved Andy and showed him my lobsters, then my camera. He grabbed it and fiddled, but to no avail. The camera was sadly busted. I retracted the camera, made sure it was secured to my bc, and went off with Andy in search of more wild life, after he was done photographing my gaggle of lobsters. A few Spanish shawls later I was looking for some more big stuff in the rocks. Andy got excited and pointed. I followed his finger to a small octopus, picking his way across a rock face. Andy chased the octopus into another crevice where it stopped and stared sullenly at his pursuer. I looked around while Andy snapped shot after shot of what was still visible of the octo. Funny, the rocks all around looked awfully strange. This was because we had swum into a harem of octopus. They’re were seven or eight of them, camouflaged brilliantly, stuck to rocks in the wide open. I poked Andy and pointed to all the octopi. He looked shocked. He hit his head in the traditional “duh” gesture and began to shoot. I took out my camera hopefully and attempted another shot. Nothing. Oh well, I enjoyed watching the funny creatures nonetheless. The cephalopods took Andy’s attention rather well for a while, then got sick of the flashes and flounced into tiny crevices. Andy gave me a high five and we made our way back to the boat. On the boat, we told everyone else about the octopus harem. No one actually believed us until the pictures were downloaded because octopus are usually such solitary creatures. No one had ever heard of a behavior like that before. I had my camera checked out topside, everything was in order, there was no explanation for why it had not worked. Not long after we got out of the water, we were in the process of getting back in the water. After suiting up, Andy and I hopped in the water for our final dive of the day. The dive was uneventful for the most part, aside from my camera malfunctioning again. It took three pictures then dies. A red light started flashing, the battery was dead. During the dive we saw a sea lion shoot by and a diving cormorant. It was cool to see the bird underwater, it looked seriously out of place. After that, we saw mostly run of the mill critters. The Spanish shawls were still ubiquitous, as were the garibaldi. Luckily these animals never get old, so I had a perfectly happy dive. After some time had passed Andy and I found ourselves in a shallow spot, were the surge got really intense. It was strange since we had been in the same spot during the last dive and there was no surge. The surge was so strong we were quickly disoriented. Despite the copious photographic opportunities, we turned back, and got deeper to avoid the surge. We looked around for the anchor line back to the boat but couldn’t find it. Since we were both getting low on air, we started our descent up a single strand of kelp. We attempted to do a safety stop, but found it impossible when the kelp bent flat with the rising current. We surfaced, not to far from the boat, maybe 100 feet off the bow and 25 feet to the left of the boat. We swam for the boat at a somewhat leisurely pace. This turned out to be a mistake. The water was sucking us at a rapid rate towards the craggy rock sticking out of the water. The rock was behind the stern of the boat, but it was so hard to make it the 25 feet over to the boat. I caught the knot at the end of the current line thrown off the stern. I was so tired from swimming I just hung there for a moment. But the current was still pulling so hard even this cost a lot of energy. I started pulling myself along the line towards the boat, Andy behind me. The line was slippery, it was hard to get a good grip with my gloves on. Eventually I couldn’t pull myself anymore, the current was too strong. Andy was no longer behind me on the line. I learned later that he had dropped his camera. I noticed other divers popping up all over the place. No one could make it to the current line, and the current was starting to take the other divers around the rock. Steve got in the zodiac and went after the divers who were floating away. Another crewman started hauling me in on the stern line. As it turned out, I had had one of the more pleasant trips back to the boat. Several other divers were towed in behind the zodiac, a few made it most of the way up the anchor line before losing it, but they caught the current line. Andy popped up several minutes later, camera in hand, 70 pounds of air left on his back. He made it back to the boat unscathed. A few people went on a night dive that evening, but I was sound asleep by 10 o’clock, it had been a heck of a day.