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Seattle's Giant Pacific Octopus Hunting Scandal: One Year Later

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Dylan with his Giant Pacific Octopus catch on Seattle's Alki Beach.(photo by Mark Saiget) | Zoom
It was a little over a year ago when a wetsuit clad diver was seen emerging from Cove 2, a popular diving spot in Seattle's Alki Beach, punching a nine foot long, 80 pound octopus he dragged out of Elliott Bay. Dylan Mayer, 19, had a permit to catch, kill and eat the octopus.

"I was told by one of the dive shops that it was okay to hunt there," Dylan said. "Obviously that was wrong."

The divers who saw him heave the octopus into his truck threatened to report him and ended up taking lots of photos, posted them to the Internet and sparked an international controversy and a bit of a witch hunt.

"They did know where I live," said Dylan. "They got my license plate number and posted it online, I was sleeping with a shotgun for a while. They were saying they were going to come to my house and kill my sisters and kill me. Over a thousand death threats over Facebook. I lost my job. That was the only thing that really kind of pissed me off."

This past October, octopus hunting at Cove 2 was banned. It's considered a special place where divers go to observe the creatures. And Dylan actually apologized at the first Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting addressing the subject, saying he had no idea the spot was so beloved.

"I was for changing the law but they can't discriminate against people who want to hunt. They can't just close it down and just stop all hunting. I've been having trouble finding places to go. They closed down eight or nine locations."

For the record, the Giant Pacific Octopus are thriving and not endangered. An elk, bear and rabbit hunter who lives in Maple Valley, Dylan thinks people are just uncomfortable seeing an animal be killed for food.

"People get mad at me at just about every animal I've killed. People just don't like seeing it, except for Maple Valley, pretty much, out in the woods. Around here in the city if I have a dead animal in the back of my truck, it causes quite the stir. They don't like seeing it up close and personal."

"That's why it doesn't make sense," Dylan's best friend and diving partner, Jake Whitbeck, chimed in. "They eat the same food, they'll buy it from the store. People will be like, 'I'd never kill a chicken and eat it,' but you're going to Safeway and buying a chicken that was kept in a tiny coop and couldn't even walk."

Dylan and Jake butchered the octopus they caught at Cove 2, cooked and ate part of it and gave the rest to friends. But was the punching necessary? Dylan said that was the only way to keep the octopus from drowning him.

"You know, every animal we've hunted has suffered to a certain extent. That being said, the factory farmed octopus: they suffer a whole lot more. They don't spend any part of their lives without touching other (octopuses.) They're crammed into a tank and they're basically suffering their entire lives. The octopus we killed had a great life. He lived for years roaming the ocean. He suffered, of course, at the end but not nearly to the extent of factory farming."

While online message boards raged with death threats against Dylan Mayer, some restaurants in the Seattle area were simultaneously serving the Giant Pacific Octopus, just not from Elliott Bay. Brendan McGill is the chef owner of Hitchcock on Bainbridge Island and was voted Food & Wine Magazine's "People's Best New Chef" of 2013.

"The octopus we use is from Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea which is where the cod boats that fish with nets, they end up in there. That's a source of bycatch octopus for us."

Octopus was just being thrown away before Brendan made a deal with a fisherman. He said Dylan's Giant Pacific Octopus scandal has trickled down to him.

"I believe that some divers think that we're getting our octopus the way that this guy did. And that's just not the case. I've started getting emails, people hit your Facebook page.There are groups of activists. Everything from Buddhists who don't think anything should be hurt, to vegans, all the way to zoology types who are like, 'Do you know how smart these animals are?'"

Brendan recently wrote a piece on his blog about how he sustainable sources seafood, to set the record straight.

"It's easy for them to attack a small business and put them on blast but it really doesn't do anything," Brendan said. "I think that if you want to save the Giant Pacific Octopus, they don't have dwindling numbers, they have a healthy population. But if you just don't want to see any of them hurt you have to go after Van de Kamp's, the fish stick guys with Alaskan cod boats, that cause this bycatch to take place. Not necessarily the 49 seat restaurant that thinks these things are jewels of the ocean and really interesting seafood."

Brendan also mentioned his disdain for Dylan in the same blog post.

"The fact that it was at a dive park is pretty atrocious to me. It's basically like going to a petting zoo and killing the animals. Backing it up by saying it's not against the law is basically because it was unprecedentedly offensive, you know? You can do all sort of things that you probably shouldn't do and just because someone hasn't written a law against it yet doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do."

But the two actually have one thing in common. Dylan, the hunter, and Brendan, the sustainable chef with the huge octopus tattoo, both respect the animals they butcher and don't believe in factory farming.

"I feel kind of bad every time I kill an animal," said Dylan. "That being said, I get over it. It's life. You know, we're predators, we eat meat. There's nothing that's going to really stop that or change that."

"The people who question eating octopus because they're smart, if they ever eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, or just go to the place that has the $5 pho. All of these animals have a soul, or at least deserve not to feel a great deal of pain," Brendan said.

Actually Dylan and Brendan have two things in common: they both agree that the Giant Pacific Octopus is the most delicious octopus they've ever eaten.

Rachel Belle, Ron and Don Show Reporter
Rachel Belle is a feature contributor and personality on The Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio (weekdays 3-7pm), and host of Ring My Belle Weekends (Saturdays at 5pm and Sundays at 3pm).
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