Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures
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Guide to America's National Marine Sanctuaries

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Voyage to Kure
Sharks at Risk
The Gray Whale Obstacle Course
  olympic coast

Return to the Amazon
Sea Ghosts: Belugas
Call of the Killer Whale

Giant Pacific Octopus

Featured Creature
Giant Pacific Octopus

The largest of almost 300 octopus species worldwide, the giant Pacific octopus is a fascinating and reclusive creature, remarkable for its size and intelligence. Giant Pacific octopuses have arms that generally measure 16 feet, tip to tip, and weigh 50-90 pounds, although some grow to 400 pounds or more. They are short-lived for their size (living on average only three to five years) but extremely prolific; females can lay up to 100,000 eggs. Hatchlings are the size of a grain of rice, and few make it to adulthood. The giant Pacific octopus is very intelligent and has been shown in laboratory tests to be able to solve complex mazes quickly, unscrew food jars, and mimic behaviors of other octopuses in different tanks. Able to change color to blend into the environment, giant Pacific octopuses live at depths of as much as 5,000 feet and generally feed on bivalves, crabs and lobster, but some have also been observed eating fish, sharks and birds. Learn more about this creature at the Encyclopedia of the Sanctuary (at

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Official Web Site (at
Sanctuary Map (at

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1994. The designation followed a string of devastating oil spills in 1985, 1988 and 1991, which led to heightened awareness of the coast's vulnerability to spills and the prospect of long-term damage from oil exploration and drilling. Washington state officials, tribal leaders and concerned citizens pushed for protected status for the Olympic Coast, which had been on a list of candidate sites since 1983. With strong support from the Washington Congressional delegation, NOAA proceeded with the designation process, resulting in the creation of the sanctuary that is home to or on the migration path of 29 species of marine mammals, scores of seabird species, countless fish, and one of the most diverse seaweed communities in the world.

What's Underwater
Twenty-nine species of marine mammals and scores of seabird species spend parts of their lives in the Olympic Coast sanctuary. gray whales visit on the longest mammal migration on Earth, and albatross gather food here to take to nestlings on mid-Pacific islands and atolls. Sea otters munch on macro-invertebrates such as urchins, which in turn graze on majestic kelp forests. Fish occupy myriad niches from the deepest ocean canyons to the shallowest tide pools. Influenced by geology, ocean currents and other global processes, the Olympic Coast's temperate environment supports critical habitats and unique communities of organisms, including one of the most diverse seaweed communities in the world.


Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is located on the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula, hours away from the populous urban areas of Puget Sound. Nevertheless, over 3.5 million visitors come to the Olympic Peninsula region, drawn by its scenic beauty, undeveloped nature, wildlife and Native American cultural attractions. The sanctuary encourages visits and works closely with public and private tourism organizations, Indian tribes and partner public agencies to make responsible, nature-based recreation a cornerstone of the region's economy.

Things To Do
Popular activities along the Olympic Coast include hiking, backpacking, camping, sea kayaking, surfing and viewing the abundant wildlife -- especially whales, seals, sea otters and seabirds. Underwater, the sanctuary boasts some of the best cold-water diving in the United States. Diving is best in September for weather and visibility but is advisable only for those with advanced skills and open-water experience.

Olympic Coast Discovery Center
Located on the waterfront in Port Angeles, Washington, the center offers information for visitors to the Olympic Coast area. Visitors can learn about marine conservation efforts, scientific explorations and the maritime heritage of the region. More at


Research Projects

  • In May-June 2006, scientists from the OCNMS and others explored areas of the sanctuary, looking for communities of deepwater corals and sponges. Among other successes, they discovered six species of soft coral and one species of a stony reef-building coral.
  • The sanctuary is part of the ongoing Coastal Observation and Survey Team program, which gathers data on seabird mortality in order to establish a baseline for measuring the effects that human and other factors are having on seabird populations.
  • The OCNMS joined with the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2005 on a Collaborative Survey of Cetacean Abundance and the Pelagic Ecosystem cruise to assess the abundance and distribution of marine mammals and to characterize the pelagic ecosystem off the U.S. West Coast.

Challenges Facing the Sanctuary

  • Oil-spill prevention will always be a challenge. Increasing vessel traffic and the potentially catastrophic consequences of human error and equipment failure, plus the toxic nature of oil, require that the sanctuary maintain vigilance and constantly improve systems for ensuring that vessels can transport petroleum fuel and cargoes safely.
  • Derelict fishing gear (abandoned nets, lines and equipment) poses a threat to marine mammals, seabirds, shellfish and fish through "ghost fishing." In other words, the gear itself, without human assistance, traps and kills animals. It also obscures and damages productive habitats.

Success Stories

  • Since the sanctuary was established, there have been no oil spills on the Olympic Coast. The sanctuary cannot and does not take sole credit, as many public, tribal and private organizations have committed to protecting the area. However, the coast's recognition as one of America's ocean treasures has doubtless encouraged consideration of everyone's role in preventing such ecological catastrophes.
  • The sanctuary's vessel traffic safety program, research, education efforts and policy initiatives have helped to focus cooperative actions that have protected the coast.
  • Research at the sanctuary has contributed greatly to the understanding of continental shelf marine environments off Washington.