This past Sunday I went on a dive at Keystone Jetty on Whidbey Island. The dive was organized loosely by my instructor, Corey, from Seattle Scuba. I ended up diving with the instructor because I didn’t have a buddy going in — figuring out how you buddy up was probably the most stressful part for me. I just don’t know all the etiquette yet. Fortunately everyone is pretty cool about it.
All the hassle — getting a car, driving it across downtown to pickup gear, getting up super early — was definitely worth it. There was just so much down there I kept looking in every direction. Overwhelming is actually an accurate description! While I can’t hardly identify everything I saw down there, it made me realize how little I do know and I can’t wait for the identification classes Seattle Scuba is going to have. Meanwhile, there are good books and lots of gorgeous photos online.
Everyone basically did two dives. The first was along the rock jetty that protects the ferry channel (incidentally, the ferry coming in is amazingly loud and disturbing under the water). The second was around some pilings that are the remnants of some kind of dock structure. Someone has put down a rope line from the corner of the pilings across to the jetty and we went that way at the end. It was probably the “easiest” part for me because my incompetence at maintaining buoyancy and the more open bottom (and no pilings or rocks) meant I wasn’t running into things.
But now to the sea creatures!
Probably the most charismatic at this dive were the abundant and very large lingcod. Some of them appeared to be nearly as long as me! Corey pointed out one that was guarding his eggs. Another one was just vertically hanging next to a rock but most were just hanging out next to a rock or partially under a bit of kelp. Considering their size, it was amazing I could be swimming along and then realize there was a lingcod right there (literally a few feet or less of distance). One I only saw from the side/back and his gills were weirdly distended. When we got out of the water, Corey explained that he saw a much smaller fish in its mouth — another lingcod!
My favorites were of course the echinoderms. While I can’t correctly identify all of them that I saw, there were plenty of Sunflower Sea Stars. These are very large (up to around three feet across!), thick and many-armed and come in many colors. It’s really amazing to float right next to a huge starfish. There were of course other sea stars (and some very large sea cucumbers!) but my memory and identification skills are not up to the task (yet).
My eyes spent so much time glued to the bottom and the jetty wall (so much going on!), that I would have missed the large school of fish above us just hanging out if Corey hadn’t pointed them out. I believe they were rockfish — yellowtail rockfish and black rockfish if a comment by Cliff (another diver who’s been a great help to me) was referring to the same school.
The jetty wall itself was covered with (I believe) giant plumose anenomes (scroll down for the white ones with frilly edges). The presence of so many actually distracted from realizing that practically ever scrape of rock had something going on. Intellectually I “knew” that underwater life is incredibly varied. But it’s quite another to stare at a bit of rock (or seabed) and barely being able to see that there is a rock.
The pilings were especially complicated and encrusted and I could identify almost none of it. There were lots of (different) creatures popping some frilly bits out of little tubes, but I have no idea what they really were. One little creature was just a bit attached to the wood, with bright yellow and purple frilly edges waving in the water. I’m guessing an anenome but I really don’t know!
I’ve been thinking about diving pretty much all week. I need more practice so I actually don’t spend half my mental energy failing to control my buoyancy. Now that I know how dense it can get, I want to plan a dive where the plan is: go find an interesting patch of rocks or wood or sea floor and just look around it for most of the bottom time. I want to be good enough that I can meaningful do REEF surveys.
While googling around, I found a PNW group associated with REEF. They have a gorgeous set of identification photo albums used for studying:
I can go see all those critters for myself!