Protecting the Giant Pacific Octopus
The issue of law vs. ethics in protecting our oceans
Commentary by Suzanne West, Sea Shepherd Seattle Chapter Coordinator
As a resident of the Seattle area, I have developed a great appreciation for the waters of the Puget Sound. Many tourists visit our region to experience the great diversity of our landscape and a variety of tourist attractions, but some of the best sights can be found underwater. There is a long and rich history of diving here in this region and there are many popular locations for the local dive community. Recently, an incident occurred at a popular dive spot and it has created a call to action to protect the giant Pacific octopus by classifying an area as a new state Marine Protected Area.
Like something out of a horror movie, a scene unfolded at Cove 2 on Alki beach on Halloween. Witnesses saw a diver dragging a giant Pacific octopus out of the water. The diver, identified as Dylan Mayer was seen punching the octopus. An article in the Seattle Times quoted Mayer (age 19) as reporting that he had no choice but to punch the octopus as it had wrapped its tentacles around his mask, nose, and mouth and he couldn’t breathe. He said it was extremely aggressive and “it did not like people and that led me to believe it was a newer one in the area, and not one of the regulars, which I let alone.”
The giant Pacific octopuses (GPO) are a popular attraction for divers in the Puget Sound. While Mayer stated to the media that he had no idea the popular dive site was informally regarded as a park, or that people would be upset by the octopus hunt, I find his comments above to contradict that position. If he knew that certain octopuses to the area were considered “regulars”, then why would he be surprised by the public outcry when he was seen beating and killing one of them?
As shocking as this was, what happened at Alki Cove 2 was legal. Mayer had a valid permit to hunt this octopus, but he has found himself in the midst of controversy. Images from his personal Facebook page, showing him kicking a porcupine, and other animal related photographs further vilified him. On the other side of the Pacific, horrors occur in another place the world has come to know as The Cove and it too is perfectly legal. Ironically, what happened this Halloween at Alki Cove 2 could also be considered a drive hunt. The Seattle Times reported that the “hunter banged two metal rods together underwater to irritate the octopus and lure it out of its lair. It is perfectly legal to irritate these animals with sound.” Once again, I find myself questioning Mayer’s position that this octopus was “aggressive and did not like people.” Maybe it just did not like him luring it from the safety of its home.
While the Cove Guardians in Taiji work tirelessly to share the plight of the dolphins with the world and keep the pressure on Japan to end the slaughter, change for that hunt and protection for the dolphins must come from their government. Change for protection of the giant Pacific octopuses and other beloved species at Cove 2 must also come from the government. With public support to create a Marine Protected Area at Cove 2, it seems possible here in the United States.
The Keffler Family, owners of Underwater Sports, the leading Seattle area scuba dive stores, and their staff, made a public statement on their FaceBook page concerning the incident at Cove 2:
“Although, what happened in Cove 2 was perfectly legal, we feel it was ethically reprehensible. Alki Cove 2 is a well-known hub for the famed giant Pacific octopus, which many divers consider to be a sacred species within our community. As such, at this point we feel our energies and resources are best served by protecting these precious creatures and/or their local habitats. The bottom line is we need to pool our efforts to protect these wondrous creatures. Firstly, we need to develop a strategy to establish a method of protection and conservation for the GPO’s in our region. Next, it is paramount that we continue to educate divers within our community as well as the general public about the delicate ecosystem that is the Puget Sound.”
Whether you are a local resident, diver, potential tourist, and/or someone who sees value in protecting marine life, we all have a stake in protecting this little Cove for future generations. One piece of the ocean at a time if that is what it takes… time is running out for many species and our oceans are in peril. As Captain Watson says, “If the oceans die, we die.” Add your voice to those here in Seattle and help us protect some of these strange and curious creatures of the deep.
The Sea Shepherd Seattle Chapter has had wonderful support from the dive community, the Keffler Family, and Dive Network News. Please join us and sign the petition created by Dive Network News.
A link to the petition can be found here:
The final decision will be up to the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission. If you wish to contact their offices, please call, write, or email the following people/departments:
Phil Anderson – Director Washington Fish and Wildlife
firstname.lastname@example.org (360) 902-2200
Habitat Programs Office
email@example.com (360) 902-2534
Fish and Wildlife Commission
firstname.lastname@example.org (360) 902-2267
Respectfully state your desire to see the Cove 2 classified as a Marine Protected Area.