Should Giant Pacific Octopus get special protections?

Feb 1, 2013

The giant Pacific octopus is a relatively healthy and abundant creature among the native wildlife living in Puget Sound.

But it’s such an iconic species that the recent killing of one by a young diver near Seattle’s Alki point has others in the community calling for new protections.

The state is accepting nominations for an advisory group that will consider a range of conservation strategies.

Last Halloween, 19-year-old Dylan Mayer was caught on camera pulling a live octopus out of the water at one of the most popular dive sites in West Seattle, Cove 2 in Elliot Bay.

After pictures of it began circulating on the Internet, showing the creature left to die in the bed of his pickup truck, his family says he received harassing calls and even death threats.

He didn’t break any laws. It’s legal to harvest one octopus per person per day, as long as you have a license and don’t puncture its skin.

But the incident caused such an uproar, that the state Fish and Wildlife Commission took it up at their hearing in December. Mayer showed up to explain what happened.

“I was the hunter,” Mayer said. “I did not know that that place was so loved by all the divers. Otherwise I would not have done that.”

He told the commission there were no signs in the area, warning him that it was a popular wildlife viewing area, where hunting might be offensive. He said he agrees it should be off limits and that should be clearly posted. But he wants other areas preserved for hunting.

That’s one of the options Fish and Wildlife is now considering, after about 5,000 divers signed a petition supporting an all-out ban on octopus hunting. Other options include closing popular dive sites to hunting of all species, or doing nothing.

Janna Nichols, an underwater photographer and dive instructor in Vancouver, says she wants to see dive sites protected.

“The big deal about what happened is it was akin to going in to your neighborhood park where people view wildlife and shooting one of those animals that you go to that park to look at.”     

Here's an example of the kind of enthusiasm that develops when divers enter the underwater world of the giant Pacific octopus:

The Commission is accepting nominations for up to twelve positions on the new octopus advisory group, through February 15th.