Thursday, June 14, 2012

Octopus's Garden

China rockfish

While invertebrates (animals without backbones) may be the most common life form under water, there are plenty of  colourful vertebrates (animals with backbones) as well.  For starters there are at least 68 species of rockfish in the Pacific Northwest that come in a wide variety of colours and patterns, and a selection of them can usually be found hovering around the rocks carefully watching any diver.  Of course where there are fish there are often fishermen, and one of the hazards of diving is avoiding the fishing lines of folks trying to catch one of these fish which can grown up to 2 feet in length.

Tiger rockfish

Lingcod guarding egg mass
The largest and most prized fish of course is the ling cod (though they have almost been fished to extinction in certain areas) and these fish, that can grow up to 5 feet in length, can be very formidable when they are guarding their eggs.  But a much friendlier and usually very curious cousin is the smaller 7 inch painted greenling, that will often accompany a diver as they swim about.  Even smaller, and the cutest fish by far, is the grunt sculpin, a Nemo like fish only 3 inches long that hops around doing its best to not bother anyone.

Painted greenling
Grunt sculpin
But the fiercest looking, ugliest, and a diver's most favorite fish of all is the wolf eel.  It isn't really an eel, it just looks like one, but these fish are loaded with character.  They mate for life, and can usually be found resting together in their dens watching TV.  They grow up to 8 feet in length and, whenever they can put away the remote control, they sliver through the water as effortlessly as a silk scarf floating in the breeze. Their favorite food is the spiny sea urchin, a porcupine like invertibrate the size of an orange or grapefruit, which they chomp down on with no regard for the nasty and incredibly sharp spikes that stick out all over. At well known wolf eel sites it's very common for divers to bring them a sea urchin and have them eating it out of their hand while cozying up for a little petting.

Wolf eel pair

Wolf eel
Perhaps even strangest of all is the 6 gill shark, a fish with very little known about them.  Distinguished by their extra gill and absence of a front dorsal fin they are quite large and can grow to over 26 feet in length.  Most of the time they live in extremely deep water but, for some reason in summer, they occasionally appear in the shallows of a few select locations.  It's considered a very rare find to encounter one of these docile beasts who appear to eat a variety of crustaceans and fish but are not known to have ever eaten or attacked a human.  I had the pleasure once of meeting one and actually petting it which you can watch on this YouTube link.

6 gill shark

Outside an octopus den
While it's very rare to see a 6 gill shark and a wolf eel den can be a little hard to find sometimes, it certainly isn't difficult to find where a giant Pacific octopus lives.  These invertebrates have to be the messiest housekeepers going, simply throwing their trash outside the door where it piles up and makes it easy to locate their den.  Subsisting on a diet of mostly crab, (another invertebrate) which they usually like to wash down with a decent Chablis, these beasts are the largest octopus in the world growing to a typical weight of 50 pounds with an arm span of 14 feet.  (There are records of them weighing more than 165 pounds and having an arm span of more than 20 feet)

Giant Pacific Octopus
Highly intelligent and able to change colour to camouflage themselves, they unfortunately only live for 3 - 5 years.  A female octopus can lay up to 100,000 eggs but she then stops eating and tends the eggs until they hatch and she dies. Occasionally an octopus will try to interact with a diver, which can be a little intimidating as I discovered once with an octopus wrapped around me fondling my gauges and hoses and wondering why I was so ugly but, when he snatched my knife out of its holder and retreated with it back to his cave, I realized he was really a kleptomaniac. So much for the myth of the octopus garden which in reality is a mess of crab shells and stolen goods.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic article and once again, you have done alot of research. Love the story about the Wolf Eels mating for life. Well done.