Interactions with a Giant Pacific Octopus
The Pacific Northwest is home to an extraordinary community of diverse and abundant marine life.
The high productivity of our emerald waters allows for some of the largest species found in the world. From Giant Plumose Anemones to Giant Nudibranchs and Stellar Sealions, there is no shortage of substantial creatures.
Our favourite of the Pacific Northwest marine species, however, is the Giant Pacific Octopus.
The largest species of octopus in the world, this cephalopod regularly weighs in at 100lb and measures 16ft across, when fully grown. Their lifespan is a mere 3-4 years.
Each octopus has 3 hearts, 1 large central brain that controls their nervous system, and 8 small brains in each arm that control movement. These are a highly intelligent creature, able to open jars, change texture, and disguise themselves with colour-changing pigment cells in their skin. They taste and feel with their suckers, and many divers in the Pacific Northwest have stories of shaking hands with an octopus.
Of all the encounters we have had with Giant Pacific Octopus, not one is ever the same. While we memorise the locations of their dens and frequently visit them, they seem to have different moods from day to day. Some dives, they want nothing to do with you, and the next dive they are fascinated by you; changing colour and reaching out to taste and feel you. Regardless, they are usually only found inside their dens, tucked away from the light.
On very rare occurrences, we are lucky enough to find Giant Pacific Octopus outside of their dens.
On a recent dive off Quadra Island, one diver called the group over by flashing her light in our direction. You can imagine our surprise when she pointed out a large Giant Pacific Octopus out of its den, sat amongst the yellow sulphur sponges and strawberry anemones.
Krystal Janicki, a frequent diver and octopus enthusiast, slowly lowered herself to the bottom. Within seconds an arm reached out to meet her, and she let it gently meander its suckers over her arm, all while thoroughly inspecting her with its eyes.
After a few minutes, the octopus gathered itself from its perch amongst the sponges and anemones, and began marching itself into our group. We all backed ourselves up to give it space, but this octopus was looking for anything but space. It followed Krystal a little deeper down the slope, until she stopped moving and lay motionless on the bottom.
The octopus had turned itself bright red at this point, and continued walking along the bottom until it reached her arms and camera. With only a few arms rooted to the ground, it began thoroughly inspecting Krystal and her camera. She allowed it to explore her, not provoking or moving.
Before long, she had lifted up and hovered motionless a few feet from the bottom, with the octopus still on her arms. It was hardly moving, with all its arms wrapped around her, and eyes inches from her own. It didn't pull on her, change colour, or hardly move.
They locked eyes, and you could tell the octopus was observing her as much as she was observing it.
For what felt like a lifetime, they hovered together in midwater, until it gently swung itself over her arm and reached out for the bottom. She slowly lowered her arms and it climbed off, then wandered its way into a large, sandy cave underneath a boulder covered with anemones and sponges.
We all stared at each other in disbelief, and began slowly (and sadly) making our way to the surface.
Such an encounter is extremely rare. It takes a group effort of highly skilled and comfortable divers, respect for marine life, and safety procedures.
Many stories you hear of Giant Pacific Octopus are warnings of how dangerous and scary they are. These negative experiences are triggered by forced encounters, provoking, and manhandling of a creature who deserves respect and distance.
This is not a promotion to attempt interactions with marine life, rather an experience that proves how gentle, cognitive, and inquisitive these giants are. When observed with respect by highly experienced divers, they can show us their true colours.
For more information about Giant Pacific Octopus, visit The Marine Detective.
Join us on weekly charters to sites on Quadra Island where we regularly find not only Giant Pacific Octopus, but also another favourite giant: Wolfeels.
Photo & Video: Shannon Groenewegen
Diver: Krystal Janicki