Chup Point

Date Reviewed:January 2003
Location:Rainy Bay, Barkley Sound
Access:Boat Dive
Site Description:Rock Fingers
Main Attraction:Juvenile Rockfish, Dendronotus iris, other nudibranchs, Puget Sound King Crabs

The prey is totally unsuspecting; not even remotely aware that it is being stalked by a vicious predator from above and may only have moments to live. The predator, primarily a benthic creature as well, continues to rear the front of it's body up in slow motion over the top of the intended target, careful not to touch any part of the prey's fully extended tentacles. Any contact now would tip the prey off as to the predator's presence and foil the ploy. As the hunter towers over it's quarry, it's long wavy red gills pull back along its body to minimize the chance of premature contact. Again in slow motion, the almost unrecognizable head of the predator forms a point and drops down, every so carefully, right over the midsection of the still unsuspecting prey. Finally, the head of the Giant Nudibranch (Dendronotus iris) makes contact with the central part of the Tube Anemone. In a blinding flash, the head of the nudibranch drives itself deep into the anemone's core. The anemone responds by quickly retracting its tentacles into its tough, tube-like fortress, but it is too late. The nudibranch drives itself deeper into the anemone with a couple of thrusts. At this point, it is hard to tell who is eating who as about one third of the nudibranch appears to be engulfed by the anemone, and the anemone has it's tentacles wrapped around the nudibranch. But moments later there is no doubt as to who is the victor as the head of the well-fed nudibranch appears, and it continues on the hunt.

This is but one of the scenes that you may likely encounter if you dive Chup Point and have some patience. This site was one of my two favorite dive sites during my first trip to Barkley Sound. In fact, we liked this site so much we made it made three of our eight dives here (two night dives and one day dive) during our January 2003 trip. I have to say this is the best cold-water night dive I have ever done so far.

Dive Profile: The Chup Point dive site offers a wonderful rock ridge that is oriented in the east-west direction. The ridge starts just off shore and extends well out into the bay. Both sides of the rock ridge are divable; in fact we crossed over the ridge from side to side several times. The ridge runs at different levels and consists of ledges, walls, small holes, cracks, valleys, and fissures. It is nowhere near as rugged as the Neah Bay ridges - most of the rock here is smooth and even. The small valleys throughout the ridge are lined with sand, as is the substrate surrounding the ridge. The ridge towers above the substrate by 20 to 30 feet, and follows it down to at least a depth of 90 fsw.

The depth along the ridge varies greatly, but definitely tended to increase as we headed west. From our descent point on the ridge (in about 30 fsw), some of our dive party headed east towards the shore and never got below 40 fsw but had a great time. My dive buddy and I opted to head west, away from shore and ended up as deep as 90 fsw.

Chup Point is fairly well protected and was not subjected to the heavy swell we encountered at almost all other dive sites during this trip. On our first two night dives, we had no current either, which apparently is the norm. However, on our final dive at this location during the third day, there was a rather terse current. It was manageable, but definitely made us work a bit. It also made shooting nudibranchs a bit of a challenge!

Marine Life: The topography here is nice, but the marine life is VERY cool. For me, the highlight was encountering dozens of beautiful Giant Nudibranchs (Dendronotus iris), in both red and white colorations. These nudibranchs cruise through the sand in search of their favorite meal, the Tube Anemone, which just so happen to be very abundant in this area. I got to see three Giant Nudibranch attacks (I had only seen one before this dive). One was successful - two others missed their target. I never get tired of watching these beautiful creatures. However, if you want to witness the carnage, you have to be very patient. Nudibranchs, like their slug relatives, travel very slow and can take minutes to travel and inch. So even if a giant Nudibranch is within 6" of a tube Anemone, it might take it a while get to its prey and mount an attack. And there is no guarantee it will actually find the anemone, or if it does find it, successfully attack it. By the way, if you want to see a Giant Nudibranch swim, gently pick one up off the bottom and release it in the water column. The nudibranch will usually start to undulate back and forth - and with a density close to that of water, it can propel itself through the water column in a crude but effective fashion, making Dendronotus iris one of the few Northwest pelagic nudibranch species.

There is far more to this site than simply watching epic nudibranch/anemone battles, however. Sticking with nudibranchs for a moment, I also spotted my first Tri-colored Polycera, one of the most striking little nudibranchs I have ever seen. It has a white body, with yellow and black highlights, and is shaped kind of like an Orange Spotted Nudibranch, but is only about an inch long. Speaking of which, there are plenty of Orange Spotted Nudibranchs at this site too. Ohdners Dorids, Sea Lemons (Anisodoris nobilis), large San Diego Dorids, Nanaimo Dorids, White Lined Dironas, and even a Dendronotus rufus rounded out the nudibranch sightings during my dives here.

However, if you are not into slugs, there is plenty of other marine life to keep one entertained. Most of the dive party was enamored with the Puget Sound King Crabs, most of which were found in 50 fsw or less. I didn't spot any below 50 fsw, but I wasn't really looking for them either.

The fish life here is very cool as well - and very different. This area appears to be a rockfish nursery of sorts, with plenty of small, juvenile rockfish roaming about. There are some adults too, but sighting juvenile Canary and Vermilion Rockfish at depths of 60 to 90 feet during the night dives was a real treat. The Vermilion Rockfish juveniles are just fantastic, with their patchwork of deep red and silver. Copper Rockfish also grace the structure here, and a number of juvenile rockfish species that are beyond my abilities to ID.

Small Lingcod, Kelp Greenlings, Painted Greenlings, Scalyhead Sculpins, and gobies all share this area too. The occasional Ratfish and Striped Seaperch can also be seen with regularity on this reef.

As with other sites in this area, some very cool urticina-type anemones of different colors decorate the rocks, and thick stocks of Plumose Anemones are commonplace. I found several congregations of Western Nipple Sponges, some Orange Puff-ball Sponges, a few Blue Ring Top Snails, and some beautiful Glass Tunicates. Sunflower Stars, Ochre Stars, Morning Stars, and Sun Stars all patrol the substrate. In the sand, vast numbers of Tube Anemones and gorgeous Orange Seapens dot the seascape. This is truly a cool site from a marine life perspective!

Getting Here: Barkley Sound is located on the west side of Vancouver Island. Although nowhere near as far away as Port Hardy, it does take a good 90 minutes to drive here from the Nanaimo ferry terminal. When we drive up here, we usually drive towards Vancouver BC and catch the Twassassen ferry to Nanaimo. Once in Nanaimo, we drive out to Port Albernie where the Rendezvous I picks us up and whisks us off (at 11 knots) to the Rendezvous lodge, located in Rainy Bay, which is just north of the entrance to Albernie Inlet. This dive site is actually only about a mile or so away from the lodge, both of which are located along the south shore of Rainy Bay. This dive site is located on the southeastern point of Rainy Bay,

Hazards: Currents can apparently be somewhat unpredictable at this site, and depth can become an issue if one get engulfed by anemone/nudibranch wrestling and doesn't pay attention to their no-deco time. When we were here, swell was almost non-existent, and boat traffic was a non-issue. It does not appear that this point is heavily fished, but I could be wrong.

Summary: This is a very cool site. This site and Renate's Reef made this dive trip for me - the rest of the sites were nice, but definitely not spectacular. I would almost come all the way back up here from Seattle just to dive these two sites again.

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