Something special was instore for me in the water that Saturday December 21st 2019. I joined my buddy as she lead the Tacoma Scuba sponsored event at Sund Rock where she would be reaching her 600th dive! My first dive was with Michelle on the south wall where Michelle spotted two different octopus on eggs. Now I know their location and will be able to monitor their growth process. I think we found a total of 3 octopus on that 70 minute dive along with so many wolf eels I lost track.
Heidi was headed in with her buddy for dive 600 and by the time our surface interval was over, she returned for a quick celebrations and photo opp. Stena and Michelle decided to dive together and keep it short as they were both getting cold. I buddied up with Nicholas, my long lost buddy from Neah Bay!
We kicked out to the buoy since visibility was so poor after some horrific rain. Once down we all headed to the wall. I went to check on the resident octopus and I saw him sitting outside his den in the open for a change. A great photo opportunity too bad I had my macro lens on! None the less, I got the camera setup and strobes placed, then s l o w l y swam towards him. As I approached I framed a nice shot and as I snapped the photo - he moved. A typical underwater photographer's challenge but then I looked up and realized he was reaching towards the camera. I snapped another photo and then hesitated for just a moment wondering if he would quickly realized it was nothing he’d want…. Oh, was I wrong! I could hardly finish that thought when he basically ingulfed my camera! I had tentacles wrapped around my right hand as I held my camera and tentacles working their way up the lanyard to my clip. We signaled to Stena and Michelle who were just a few feet ahead of us and they came back. Realizing the situation, they all began gently peeling Mr. Octopus off of me and then my camera but he had secured a strong hold under the rocks and pulled the strobe into his den. Thankfully the camera itself was too large for the opening. As soon as I could, I unclipped the camera from my D-ring knowing I needed to be able to part with it should things get worse before they got better. We then proceeded to have bit of a tug-a-war as I pulled hard on the lanyard in an effort to recover the arm, floats and strobe that were pulled into his den. Trying to beat an octopus at a game of tug-a-war when he has his den and surrounding rocks as leverage was futile! And, trying to outsmart an octopus at 65’….just wasn’t going so well either. I went and found a small crab and threw is back into his den hoping he’d realize it was food and strobe was not. That failed. It was past the Stena and Michelle’s planned 30-mintue dive so everyone checked gauges, gave each other the “okay” and Nicholas shook his head at me and indicated “cut”. I shook my head in agreement. I knew what I had to do… I got my arm back into his den as far as I safely could, and since he was so obsessed with his new strobe that wasn’t hard, then I disconnected the strobe from the housing cutting my losses. The ladies signaled they were leaving. Nicholas and I went down the wall a bit and then I went back for another tug or two on the strobe arm but there was no use. I couldn’t think of anything else to do nor did we have anything with us that would really help in this peculiar situation. I was nearing my no-decompression limits considering I had already done a 70-minute dive earlier so we slowly made our way up the wall and through the shallows. We did see a cool wolf eel out in the open swimming with a big old kelp crab in his jaws!
I decide to cleanup and go get my tanks filled before the shop closed. I contacted my buddy Don to see if he could do a dive first thing in the morning in an attempt to recover the strobe. He agreed and we made our plans.
I posted something on Facebook incase anyone went diving before I could get back there. My step dad made a comment that for some reason suddenly made me realize that without being attached to the camera, the floats on the arm would make the strobe positively buoyant! Not that I could have done anything differently…. A surface marker would have just created a mess and potential entanglement for the octopus and I didn’t want that. If, and when, Mr. Octopus got bored he would discard his new play toy from under the safety of his den and it would surely float…..away.
The next morning Don and I went to wake the sleeping giant and frankly he could care less! He totally ignored us! We tried our best to look into his den and saw no sign of the strobe. However, we found the plastic checkered wrapper off one of the floats discarded in his pile of crab shells. Now I have to wonder if he chewed his toy up? We searched all around the dive site and along the bank to no avail. When I returned home I created a silly Facebook post and sent it around to every place I could think of and then created a flyer to distribute locally in hopes that someone might find it floating or washed ashore.
While the experience was somewhat incredible, in an amazing yet potentially scary way, I knew the octopus was just being a curious creature. Bottom line is that strobes are replaceable – buddies are not! I do hope he didn’t chew the floats to bits and eat any of it! I’m sure that would not be healthy for him.
My former neighbors from Tumwater live near Lake Cushman and have kayaks! They were always so amazingly supportive and generous as neighbors and still treat me so kindly. They brought their kayak to me Christmas morning. I must have kayaked over 3-miles looking along the shoreline… but again to no avail. I managed to squeeze that kayak into my Honda Fit and took it back to up to their cabin on Cushman. Even though I didn’t find it, I felt a little relief knowing I had made a good effort in my search. And, while kayaking, I picked up a big bag of trash! Sadly, within my first 5-minutes the bag and kayak were full. I will need to coordinate a cleanup here before I head out as it is much needed!
Now I’ll need to see what my insurance agents says! Can’t wait to explain this one….
Meanwhile, if you see a strobe floating or washed ashore – please pick it up. I would love to have it back to complete my story if nothing else!
Goodbye strobe and goodbye 2019 – and Happy Diving!
Pamela Treischel is a SCUBA diving enthusiast, underwater photography hobbyist and Ambassador for the Inland Ocean Coalition.