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November 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Does This Seattle Diver Deserve Death Threats?

from the November, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As Superstorm Sandy slammed the Northeast this month, a different kind of storm hit the Pacific Northwest when a young local diver was seen hauling a huge Pacific octopus from a popular Puget Sound diving area near Seattle's Alki Point, causing a ruckus among divers and in media outlets around the world.

"It's just not done. It's bad form. Even if you can do it, you shouldn't," said Bob Bailey, who witnessed Dylan Mayer , 20, bringing the octopus ashore. Bailey told the British newspaper Daily Mail that Mayer punched the octopus several times as he was dragging it ashore, and that it was still alive when Mayer dumped it in the back of his pickup truck. Mayer had a one-day hunting license and legally did nothing wrong, but divers worldwide were infuriated by his actions.

Part of the problem is that this particular area, Cove 2, is regarded as a pristine park, albeit not an officially protected one. Divers go in hopes of observing the giant Pacific octopus, considered intelligent, agile and not usually hunted. The other issue with hunting an octopus is that if it is female, it could be guarding its eggs. The sex of the octopus in question is in dispute, and Mayer has repeatedly said he saw no eggs when he captured the creature. He told the Seattle Times that he punched the octopus in self-defense because it had wrapped its tentacles around his mask and mouth, and that he couldn't breathe. The reason why he wanted to capture it in the first place: "to draw it for this art project, and eat it for meat."

Another amazing aspect of this story is how it went viral and caused such an uproar. The story began after another witness to the octopus' capture wrote about his hostile confrontation with Mayer on the Northwest Dive Club's website, calling on local dive shops to ban Mayer from their stores. Visuals helped fan the flames when he posted pictures of Mayer with the octopus, and then Mayer himself posted photographs while grinning and measuring the cephalopod with a yardstick on the floor of his garage. Now Mayer's family has been bombarded with less-than-friendly phone calls, dive shops have banned Mayer, and he says he has been receiving abusive e-mails and even death threats.

What a change from a few decades ago, when divers, not known to be radical environmentalists back then, were finning around, spearing anything they could get close to. The Mayer incident shows a fundamental shift in how divers are near or at the forefront of environmental protection and preservation. But death threats and threatening phone calls to the family? While you may applaud these divers for being so protective of the dive site and its inhabitants, keep in mind that Mayer's actions, however inappropriate, were not illegal.

Instead of making death threats, how about getting legislators to make some changes? Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, has decided to use the incident as a force for change. After receiving a petition signed by 5,000 divers, he announced plans to explore regulatory options for banning the harvest of giant Pacific octopuses at Cove 2 and possibly elsewhere in Puget Sound. He'll be holding public meetings this winter to hear the public's thoughts. Even Mayer is in favor, telling Anderson he supports a ban, saying, "I didn't know they were so beloved, or I wouldn't have done it."

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