I started my morning mindlessly perusing Facebook and sipping a cup of bad coffee. Then I stopped on an image that confused me. It was a diver at Cove 2, recognizable by the gravel beach and seawall–and he was holding a sizable limp octopus.
As I followed the link to the NWDC forum page, I learned that this animal was not dead of natural causes (actually very much alive), but rather, that the individual holding it had ‘hunted’ the animal from its den and had been observed (allegedly) punching it as he swam it back to shore.
Like every other diver on the page, my blood boiled. Octopuses are something of a sacred animal to divers, particularly in the PNW. They fascinate us with their intelligence, evolutionary adaptations, and the instinctual tuning that causes them to protect their offspring as they slowly starve to death over a series of months.
I’m the last person to anthropomorphize, but we are talking about a genus that has been given honorary vertebrate status under United Kingdom anti-cruelty laws. We’re also talking about an animal that has the ability not only to learn and remember, but to observe and remember.
Give an octopus a piece of food in a screw-lid jar and it’ll eventually figure out how to open it. And the next time will be faster. And faster the next.
But place an octopus that has never unscrewed a lid in an aquarium next one that does and the inexperienced animal will actually acquire the skill through observation. That’s impressive comprehension in general–not just for an invertebrate.
The bummer: it’s legal to hunt them. So this guy, for all his disregard for the wishes of other divers, is within his legal rights. But that’s not the point.
The point is that when you dive, regardless of whether you want to be or not, you are part of a community; and PNW divers take that community very seriously. As with other groups of people sharing space and working around each other, we have a set of accepted norms, and one of those is not hunting at popular dive sites where people go to see these animals.
There is an expectation of preservation of a shared resource; access to Giant Pacific Octopuses within 20 minutes of downtown Seattle is a precious rarity, and local divers are aware of that.
If this consideration for other divers was not a factor, any popular dive site would succumb to the tragedy of the commons.
Instead of a shared, communal experience understating the value of these animals for everyone, dives would be slow swims over vacant rocks where the locations of rare or exciting animals would be suspiciously guarded instead of celebrated and freely shared by recently-surfaced divers. That’s the mistake that this guy made.
Not being there, I can only piece together what happened. Apparently this individual and his dive buddy swam to shore punching the octopus and were confronted by Bob Bailey, a local instructor and active community member.
Bailey attempted to find out what was going on and inform them that this was not acceptable behavior. Being young and likely feeling cornered, the “hunter” started in with some smartassery, and allegedly mentioned that he’d maybe go back for another one, and that this one “wasn’t sitting on eggs anymore” (later claimed to be in sarcasm) which apparently caused Bob to lose his patience, allegedly calling the younger man a “fucker”, according to the younger man himself .
The octopus squirmed in the back of individual’s truck for about 20 minutes before the pair drove off. Pictures were taken, then uploaded to the forum.
So the community bit back, and fairly hard. Over the course of the next 48 hours the board lit up with 12 pages of posts.
Movements were discussed regarding getting protected status for the Cove as well as the animals in general (a bit overkill), and folks tried to–and ultimately succeeding with–identifying the divers so they could start pressuring local dive shops to deny them air fills for their transgressions. Eventually it went to the news:
At the same time, one of the local shops, Bubbles Below, posted the forum article to their Facebook page condemning the action. Over 150 comments from divers flooded in, and oddly enough, a comment or two from the ‘hunter’ himself and (apparently) his sister.
Then the standard back-and forth accusations started. But one appeal from a hunter, John Rawlings, did stand out to me because it focused less on the ‘hunt’ itself but rather on the manner in which it was conducted:
“To Dylan – Son, you need to reconsider your manner of viewing life in general and hunting in particular. I’ve been diving for over 35 years, and hunting for at least that long. I’ve taken deer, elk and bear on land and plenty of lingcod and crab beneath the surface. I do not hunt octopuses, but my best friend does because he loves the meat. Son, a true hunter works for his success. He scouts and explores. He practices with his weapon so that his quarry will not suffer more than is necessary. He hunts “off the beaten path” so as to share the wonder of nature and makes proper use of any animal he takes. Ethical hunters do NOT go into the center of popular areas with the general public and commence to beat and maim any game animal before the horrified eyes of that public. You KNEW that Seacrest is a hugely popular dive site. You KNEW that it is treasured by thousands of divers all over the Pacific Northwest because it is a spot where they are most likely to see a Giant Pacific Octopus. You KNEW that it is a beloved and treasured location for those reasons, yet you chose to “hunt” there….I suspect that you did so simply because you knew that it would be easy. Son, hunting isn’t supposed to be easy….that would make it simply slaughter. There are many things that I suspect you did on the 31st but cannot prove. A true hunter is ethical – he treats animals with respect even as he stalks and kills. Please re-think how you do things in this world.”
Early Friday morning Bob posted an excerpt from the ‘hunter’ via the West Seattle Blog, in which the latter attempted to explain his side of the story. It looked as though the conflict might have been over, since both individuals appeared to admit the situation could have been handled better. However, the last paragraphs from our ‘hunter’ still denote an immaturity and lack of understanding of the situation:
“lastly because of all the death threats, harassment, oh yeah and posting my employers number (they were innocent here but still had to deal with a couple HUNDRED calls from you people), I’ve decided that if this guy apologizes and asks me nicely to not hunt that area (like he should in the first place have, I would have understood if he didn\’t start off with calling me a fucker) to me via email/ gets rid of the people threatening to kill me and my family to stop, then I will never hunt that area again.
however if he refuses and I continue to get people calling me, messaging me, threatening me, spamming me, etc, then I will continue to hunt the area. local law enforcement have been contacted in regards to the issue and they say you may not stop me, touch me, block me, or interfere with me in anyway or the individuals will be subjected to criminal prosecution.”
Bob, in order to protect the integrity of the cove, stated that he would “offer what he [the ‘hunter’] wants to go hunt elsewhere. My goal is to protect the cove…whatever it takes,” which is or course good, but completely misses the point.
This kid is young, immature, and is thinking only of himself. The fact that he is legally within his right to hunt is worthy of note only because he is using that right as a means to blackmail the community–into not only absolving him of any accountability, but also into forcing an apology for attempting to protect (however overkill) one of its most treasured resources.
This would be a disservice not just to the community, but also to this young man. He violated the rules of a community that he is attempting to join, and whether or not he agrees with those rules matters less than their existence prior to his arrival.
Any good hunter scouts an area first, and anyone scouting Cove 2 would immediately recognize it as an inappropriate place to hunt; his decision should not have been what he could do, but rather what he should do.
To acquiesce is to rob him of a valuable learning experience in which he would have to come to grips with the fact that he does not exist in a vacuum, and that self-centered actions have consequences.
As Mr. Rawlings pointed out, Dylan had to know that this was a popular site and that this killing would not go unnoticed (or unchallenged). Owning up and admitting wrongdoing (or simple carelessness) is what an adult does, and something I think local divers might respect, or even cause them to chalk the situation up to youthful indiscretion. But to retreat while holding a revered community resource hostage will earn no allies, and will be remembered as nothing more than the antagonistic actions of a petulant child.
* * *
Of course no threats, death or otherwise are justified (or reasonable), even against this individual. However, in my reading I came across only blatant hostility, not the mentioned “death threats” or the like, which did not appear to be in the public forums. This is by no means an attempt to justify such unjustifiable actions, just simply to point out that I never came across any and would condemn them if I had.