On November 1st, a Pacific Northwest diving school posted some pictures of a diver who had pulled a Giant Pacific octopus out of a popular dive spot in Puget Sound. The diver, later identified as a 19-year-old Maple Valley man named Dylan Mayer, horsed around with the octopus for a few minutes before loading it into the bed of his pickup truck and driving away. The octopus, still alive at that point, was destined for dinner.
Let's cut Seattle's octopus hunter a break
But it's obvious the Giant Pacific octopus needs better legal protection
The reaction among the diving community was universally outraged, and this outrage quickly spread through Seattle to the rest of the Internet. Mayer's cocky, cavalier behavior with his catch certainly helped fuel the anger. Most people reacted as if Mayer had swaggered into an animal shelter and walked out with a puppy he planned to eat for dinner.
This of course is what biologists mean by the (somewhat derisive) term "charismatic megafaunal." People just plain LIKE giant octopi more than they like less charismatic animals such as salmon or Dungeness crab (both of which are legally hunted in the same area every day without raising a big public fuss).
The Giant Pacific octopus is an incredible creature, as well as being a high-profile resident at the Seattle Aquarium. This animal can span more than 20 feet, and yet it is generally solitary and secretive, creeping out from its cave only at night to hunt for clams and crabs.
The octopus is remarkably intelligent. They can learn how to unscrew a jar to get the treat inside, just by watching another octopus - or a human zookeeper - perform the trick. I have also heard a story (possibly an urban legend) that at the Seattle Aquarium, the mystery of missing fish in an predator-free aquarium was solved one night by setting up a sting operation. A webcam caught footage of a Pacific giant octopus squeezing out of its own aquarium and scooting across the floor to climb into the neighboring tank in order to eat its contents. The octopus then crept back into its own tank, and none would have been the wiser without the video.
Mayer has apologized sincerely. And yet he continues to receive death threats. But this incident isn't Mayer's fault: he had a permit for shellfish, one which allowed him to legally capture and kill a Giant Pacific octopus. The fault for this incident clearly lies with Washington State's Department of Fish and Wildlife, for not better regulating this hunting practice.
In the wake of this incident, many people are also trying to set up better protections for the popular dive area where the octopus had been living. Here's hoping this will be the last time a Giant Pacific octopus is killed for sport in Puget Sound.