Have you ever been attacked by an Octopus?
By: Derek Holzapfel
It never entered my mind that I would be having my most frightful un-nerving diving experience that particular November 2007 day. It was time for another weekly winter dive here on rural Pender Island, in southern British Columbia, Canada. In my twenty years of diving I am never bored of the astonishing biodiversity in the waters around this island. Cold winter months are most ideal for underwater photography, as the plankton dies off during the short days, and the silt run-off from the mainland is reduced by the mountain snow pack. Temperature at depth is usually around 45F summer and winter. The goal of my weekly solo underwater photo shoots is to capture photographs of as many of the unique marine life forms in this area as I can. After specimens are photographed, they are identified and presented in a web photo database on my website (www.naturediver.com). It is my intent to create awareness and educate non divers as to what lives in our ocean. By doing so, I hope to increase support for the National Marine Conservation Area initiative currently underway here in southern BC. A decision regarding this proposed marine conservation area is to be made in the spring of 2008.
Having waited until late afternoon for a slack tide on a dark rainy overcast day I hauled my gear down one of the ocean access trails. My dive started with a friendly curious Whitespotted Greenling darting around me, and some macro photography of the delicate white gills of an Alabaster Nudibranch. To my disappointment the ambient light slowly faded away as the batteries died in my primary dive light and it became quite dark. I decided to continue the dive using the camera’s LED spotting lights (very dim). Down at 70 feet, in near darkness, I was concentrating on some super macro shots of the intricate red patterns on the back of a Vermillion Star when a dark shadow emerged from the darkness. As I recognized a large Giant Pacific Octopus coming towards me, I thought "a friendly Octopus coming to say hello - this should make for some great photography". Turns out I was totally wrong! Before I could react, and as I took my one and only photograph, this creature lunged forward and latched onto me and my camera equipment with four of its arms while two of its remaining four rear arms anchored themselves around a rock. I was very surprised and definitely not happy! My initial thoughts were, “so this is how my life is going to end”, followed by “sure would be nice to get some more photos”, and followed by “OK, how do I get out of this situation?” In self defense I had pushed my dead flashlight to the body (as seen in the photograph). Nothing happened and I was being pulled down by the incredible strength of this creature. Now I was even less happy and wondered, "How do I get out of this? - use my knife or drop my weights or let go of the camera gear or inflate my suit"? Fortunately I was able to swing my feet/fins onto rock below me and push straight up. After a little tug of war and with a big effort on my part, the Octopus decided I was not fit to be had for dinner and released me. Needless to say, I hustled to shallower water after that. During the remaining minutes of the dive I stopped to take some more pictures, but kept looking over my shoulder for a sneak attack. Glad to say I was not followed. My best guess is that this Giant Pacific Octopus would have been approximately 8-10 feet long across the tips of its arms.
After telling this story to many people and searching the internet, I started to receive and find many links about this species. Here in British Columbia the Giant Pacific Octopus can reach 26 feet with a weight of 110 pounds. It grows to this amazing size within a short life span of only four years. It is usually a very shy creature living in deeper habitat. I was thus amazed that it stalked me, potentially interested in food. There are a few fantastic videos on the web of an octopus taking down and killing sharks in a public aquarium, attacking a remote submarine, and even attacking another underwater photographer. I always assumed that clams and crab were their only diet, but sharks, fish and even birds are eaten by this octopus species. All in all there are very few accounts of attacks on humans, and I found no mention of human fatalities – phew, what a relief! It does; however, seem that many divers have some kind of interesting octopus experience to share.
My solo underwater photography has always been a very careful, tranquil and relaxing experience for me. I have to admit to a bit of apprehension when diving at the same location the following week with a new dive light and batteries. Funny, none of my diver buddies wanted to join me on this dive either. Happy to report that old Octo was not there waiting for me and my apprehension soon disappeared. I do look forward to photographing more Giant Pacific Octopi - in a non aggressive situation - sometime soon.