Point Defiance, West Wall

Date Reviewed:October, 2001 / March 2002
Location:Point Defiance
Access:Boat dive
Site Description:Massive sheer clay wall
Main Attraction:Unique structure, Giant Pacific Octopus

The south and central Puget Sound areas sometime do not receive the notoriety that our more northern dive locations receive. Despite this lack of recognition there are many good dive sites in these areas, and some simply outstanding ones. The west wall at Point Defiance is one such outstanding site. Please be advised that due to depth and currents, this is an advanced dive site.

Imagine a wall of Swiss cheese extending over 100 yards long and 60 feet high, and you have an accurate depiction of this dive site. The wall consists predominately of clay, and hundreds of thousands of Piddock Clams have taken it upon themselves to burrow into the wall leaving tube shaped holes all over the structure. Although the clay wall itself is not conducive to providing an ideal habitat to many marine species, the holes that the clams have constructed do serve this purpose well. The result is a magnificent wall that has been turned into a huge apartment complex for some of the smaller residence in Puget Sound.

Cruising along the wall and examining the holes will reveal Decorated Warbonnets, Mosshead Warbonnets, Grunt Scuplins, Crescent Gunnels, Saddleback Gunnels, Scalyhead Scuplins, several types of hermit and other small crabs, Dock Shrimp, and small rockfish. Red Irish Lords and Buffalo Scuplins attach them selves to the wall and remain motionless until an unsuspecting meal strays by. Massive Sunflower Stars scale the vertical wall in search of a meal of clams. Striped Seaperch and Shiner Perch leisurely cruise the wall, picking at the endless masses of shrimp and crustaceans. Pile Perch can he seen above the wall in the kelp. An occasional Dogfish may also be spotted patrolling the wall.

Two things about the marine life here caught me by surprise. First, the size of some of some of these critters is impressive. Some of the warbonnets here are as big as those in the Port Hardy area. The Striped Seaperch also seem to be very robust and well fed. Second, there are countless Giant Pacific Octopus hiding on this wall. On a dusk dive here, we encountered four of these wonderful animals, three of which were just emerging from their lairs, and one that was out in the open. This is one of the few sites in Puget Sound where I have been lucky enough to find Giant Pacific Octopus out in the open. None of the octopus we encountered here were huge, but finding any Giant Pacific Octopus in the open is a treat.

Although I originally did this review in October of 2001, I did this dive again in early March of 2002. Although there are still many cool things to see on this wall, the marine life here in winter months is markedly less prolific. We still found Mosshead Warbonnets, Copper and Brown Rockfish, Red Irish Lords, an occasional Sailfin and other small sculpin, giant Sunflower Stars, and more shrimp and small crabs then you would ever know what to do with. However missing were the schools of perch, Grunt Sculpins, and beloved Decorated Warbonnets. Still a good dive, but the marine life appeared to be much more robust in early fall, as is the case with many Puget Sound dive sites.

Above the wall lies a moderately sloping bottom, providing some rock structure to serve as anchors for Bull Kelp. If you explore this upper ledge during your safety stop, you will find some interesting sand-stone formations that provide refuge for a number of marine critters. Below the wall (at around 80 fsw), the bottom gives way to sand and silt and is dotted with large boulders that have been worn smooth by the unyielding currents. By contrast, you will also find piles of large squared blocks of clay that have fallen off the wall. Occasionally octopus and Wolf-eels may be found in these "block piles", along with Brown Rockfish and an occasional Lingcod. Also along the base of the wall you will find cave-like indentations that are fun to explore.

This wall is located on the west side of Point Defiance, which places it in at the north end of the Tacoma Narrows. This area is subjected to some extreme currents. However, on flooding currents, the brunt of the incoming current blows by Point Defiance and misses this wall. On ebb currents, this area takes the full brunt of the current. Therefore, it is advised to never dive this site on ebbing currents. If you are diving this site on a flooding current, you will notice that current in this area actually flows the opposite direction (towards Point Defiance) of the current in the Narrows (away from Point Defiance). This is because the current rushing by Point Defiance creates a back-eddy where the wall is located. Be warned - we have noted that the strength of this back-eddy current can vary greatly and change quickly.

When diving here, we also have to be careful on how far along the wall toward Point Defiance we go. I imagine if you go too far north along the wall, you will subject yourself to the main current and may be unexpectedly whisked out into the Narrows. For this reason, I would strongly advise staying well clear of the Point Defiance part of the wall and running a live boat.

One final cautionary note - boat traffic. If the salmon are running (and even when they are not), there can be dozens of boats cruising through here. Although the wall is fairly close to shore, make certain to fly a dive flag and wave off boats before they get too close to your divers (another reason for running a live boat).

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