Keystone Jetty Dive

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!

Quick Scuba Note

Seven weeks ago I took my open water certification class at Seattle Scuba. It was my first scuba experience and one reason I wanted to start writing more.

It was amazing. Yes, I was incredibly cold (seven millimeter neoprene is still cold), the dive site is not the best in the world, and I spent a lot of time waiting on a line just breathing1. But during that weekend I saw many (to me) huge starfish, some sea pens, a few fish and a few crabs. One very tiny crab was just hanging out by the line — I think that crab saved the entire endeavor, reminding me why I wanted to do this. It took my mind off the fact that I was freezing and couldn’t see very far because all of us green divers had kicked up so much sediment. He (she?) just crawled along going about his business and I got to watch.

The second awesome part was realizing in a physical way how different the underwater world is. This is something that I intellectually “knew” because nature documentaries rock2. Even with all that gear on, it’s pretty easy to maneuver underwater. It made me think of several sea mammals and birds that also spend time on land. Usually they are incredibly awkward on land and that is the only way most of us see them (in real life, as opposed to nature documentaries). But all the awkward bulk of a sea lion is not awkward underwater. This was driven home to me as I walked up the rocky beach out of the water for the third time, feeling like I would never make it to the ledge to remove my gear before I slipped and fell. I’m not adapted to be in the water, so I’m even more awkward out of the water. But the entire experience made me viscerally feel that underwater is different.

On the way to class on the second day (almost exactly seven weeks ago in fact!) I realized that scuba gear makes me a cyborg3 since unmodified humans aren’t able to breathe underwater (or for that matter aren’t capable of maintaining a level below the surface). As a person who welcomes the idea of using technology to improve human condition and ability, I pretty much couldn’t shut up about it — “I’m a cyborg today!”

I’ve since become a scuba cyborg one day in Aruba where I swam thru a school of fish. I swam thru two different schools, gently, each time it was more amazing as the fish gradually just made a gap and then closed it up behind me. They were gorgeous colorful fish, darting around rapidly, almost like each represented a notional position in an electron cloud. But there weren’t so many of my favored starfish, though a giant purple sea urchin of extreme spininess reminded me of the small little sea urchins I loved in the tide pools of northern California. It was also kind of nice to not be wearing a super thick wetsuit … but the frigid north is my home, so next week I get to go see more awesome underwater sea creatures who live in a world I can only visit.

  1. Instructional dives generally involve descending along a line and then waiting holding on to a rope on the bottom until it’s your turn to perform some skill like mask clearing or swapping regulators.
  2. If you have never seen The Blue Planet, you should. It’s narrated by David Attenborough — off-screen as they sensically chose not to have someone dive everywhere and speak in scuba gear. The episode “The Deep” about, well, deep-sea life is fascinating and really drives home that parts of the world really are alien to our experience.
  3. For the pedants, I realize that traditionally “cyborg” usually refers to be a permanent of biological and technology. It could be permanent with enough technology and reason to do so. See the disturbing novel Starfish by Peter Watts.