Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Posts from the ‘Octopus’ category

Gentle Giants. What to do when you find your dive buddy with a Giant Pacific Octopus on her head.

Please note, I have shared our experience below to reduce the misunderstanding and demonization of octopuses NOT to stimulate diver attempts at interactions. What is described below was an unsolicited gift experienced by those with a very high level of dive experience; knowledge of octopuses (and dive buddy) behaviour; and solid safety protocols.


The Kraken?! Devilfish?!

Scary?! Dangerous?! Alien?

Suggest such things about a Giant Pacific Octopus to any scuba diver respectful of marine life who has had an encounter with one of these gentle giants, and there is going to be a very strong response shattering such mythology.

As it always goes, fear and mythology thrive where there is absence of knowledge.

Any negative encounters between divers and Giant Pacific Octopuses that I am aware of, result from divers manhandling them “insisting” on an encounter, or involve octopuses that are habituated as a result of being fed by humans.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus, Copper Rockfish and dive buddy Natasha Dickinson.
Read about this remarkable encounter below. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

We, as divers, are so fortunate to come across Giant Pacific Octopuses in their world where they are invertebrate royalty. We are able to meet them on their turf, and thereby know how inquisitive and intelligent they are. We know they are mighty, highly adaptable predators.

And, we know too, when we look into their eyes, that observation and assessment is being reciprocated.

That preamble was necessary before sharing what happened today.

This did . . . .

©2015 Jackie Hildering

1. Dive buddy Natasha Dickinson during the remarkable Giant Pacific Octopus encounter.
See the Copper Rockfish too? ©2015 Jackie Hildering

I had been taking photographs of Lingcod males guarding their egg masses and noted that my dive buddy Natasha Dickinson was signalling me with her light, indicating that she had found something of particular interest.

I took a few more shots and then swam towards her and found . . .  my dive buddy with a Giant Pacific Octopus completely covering her face. Sorry that I missed that shot. I was so in awe of what I saw.

Natasha is an incredibly skilled and experienced diver with a deep respect for marine life. She was clearly not afraid, nor was the octopus.

Natasha had taken the precaution of putting her hand over the regulator in her mouth in case the octopus took an interest in that but otherwise, allowed her to explore.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

2. Natasha is also a master of facial expressions that relay 1000 words. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

I would learn later that, while waiting for me she had been watching the Copper Rockfish that you will see in all but one of the photos in this blog. This rockfish stuck very near the octopus. A buddy?  That I don’t know but escorting a Giant Pacific Octopus on the hunt is a really good strategy. As the octopus flushes out animals from under rocks with his/her arms, the rockfish can grab the prey that do not end up under the octopus’ mantle.

While observing the rockfish, the Giant Pacific Octopus had slowly advanced toward Natasha and she remained where she was, intrigued at what would happened and having a contingency plan.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

3. Octopus flashing white as it pulls on the clasp ©2015 Jackie Hildering

When I started to take photos the Giant Pacific Octopus gradually backed away but had taken a particular interest in a clasp at the end of a bungee cord on Natasha’s gear.

You can see how her arm was entwined around the cord and how there was some flashing of white in the skin. You can also see the Copper Rockfish!

©2015 Jackie Hildering

4. Pulling a little harder! ©2015 Jackie Hildering

©2015 Jackie Hildering

5. One of the photos that suggests this was a female.  ©2015 Jackie Hildering

I believe this octopus was a female, thanks to feedback I received from self-admitted Cephalopod Geek supreme, Keely Langford of the Vancouver Aquarium. Octopus males have a “hectocotylus arm”. In Giant Pacific Octopuses, it is the third arm on their right. The hectocotylus stores the spermatophores – packets of sex cells, two of which are handed over to a receptive female who stores them until ready to fertilize her eggs.

Having the good fortune to get photos of the right side of this octopus, particularly #5 and #7, allowed me to see that the top of third arm on the right is not differentiated and that therefore, this was a female.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

6. Just after letting go. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

Back to recounting our adventure . . . .

After about a minute or two of gently tugging on the bungee cord, Ms. Giant Pacific Octopus let go.

Natasha swam a bit further off, allowing me a few minutes to marvel and photograph this beauty – the Giant Pacific Octopus AND the Copper Rockfish.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

7. Another photo that allowed me a good look at the 3rd arm on the right. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

©2015 Jackie Hildering

8. Ms. Octopus with the Copper Rockfish particularly near. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

©2015 Jackie Hildering

9. At one point, she also slowly advanced towards me but when I retreated a bit, so did she. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

©2015 Jackie Hildering

10. Walking towards me.  ©2015 Jackie Hildering

When Natasha circled back, the octopus flashed a bit of white as you can see in the image below. Recognition?

We both found ourselves waving goodbye when we, regretfully, had to return to our terrestrial world.

©2015 Jackie Hildering

11. Giant Pacific Octopus, Copper Rockfish, Kelp Greenling and dive buddy. ©2015 Jackie Hildering

So what to do when you find a Giant Pacific Octopus on your dive buddy’s head? Observe, marvel, take some photos, share and maybe it can help dispel some of the mythology and vilification about these fabulous marine neighbours.

Eye-to-eye with a gentle giant. My peering into a Giant Pacific Octopus' den earlier this month (using a macro lens). ©Jackie Hildering

12.. Eye-to-eye with a gentle giant. My peering into a Giant Pacific Octopus’ den earlier this month (using a macro lens). ©Jackie Hildering

 

Giant Pacific Octopus Facts:

  • Enteroctopus dofleini is the world’s largest octopod species with the maximum records for size being 9.8 m from arm tip to arm tip and 198.2 kg.
  • Average life expectancy is only 3 to 4 years.
  • Like other octopuses:
    • They have a beak with venom, three hearts, blue blood, and their skin is capable of detecting chemicals (as our nose does).
    • While many sources report their having 9 brains, octopuses only really have one donut-shaped brain positioned around their oesophagus and then each of their eight arms has many neurons, this is referenced as “distributed intelligence”. Damir Allen explains at this source; “Think of it like a command centre and 8 independent soldiers. They all act semi-independently, and if separated from the main body they will continue to capture food and try to deliver it to a non-existent mouth.”
    • Their ink is not just a distraction for predators but contains the chemical tyrosinase which causes eye irritation and messes up the predators’ senses of smell and taste.
    • They are jet propelled and are capable of incredible camouflage where they can not only change the colour of their skin but also its texture to blend in with their surroundings.
    • They mate only once. From the Vic High Marine website regarding Giant Pacific Octopuses: “Females die directly after they have finished laying and guarding to their egg however males live a slightly longer time. Octopus reproduction starts when a male uses a specialized tentacle [sic, octopuses have arms not tentacles] to pass two spermatophores (sperm packages) to the female. Once given the sperm the female stores the package until she is ready to fertilize the eggs.  Before a female is ready to fertilize the eggs she has to find a suitable den. This search can take the future mother up to one month! Once the perfect place is found the female shuts herself in using rocks. From there she fertilizes each egg and gathers them in bundle of approximately 200. She hangs each group of eggs from the ceiling of the cave. This is a long process because, on average, a female octopus can lay up to 50,000 eggs.  The incubation time for octopus eggs are six and a half months.  During this time the female stays in the cave, not even leaving to eat, attending to the eggs by constantly blowing oxygenated water on to them. When the baby octopuses hatch they are referred to as paralave. These tiny juveniles swim up to the surface joining other zoo plankton and spending weeks feeding on tiny phytoplankton. Once they have developed enough mass they descend to the benthic zone.  As for the mother, she waits until all the eggs have hatched then emerges from the cave and dies shortly afterwards due to the starvation she endured during the months she spent devoted to tending her eggs.
  • Excellent on-line resources on octopuses.
  • Best book on Giant Pacific Octopuses –  The Giant Pacific Octopus and Other Cephalopods of the Pacific Coast by James A. Cosgrove and Neil McDaniel.
  • And the plural really is “octopuses” not “octopi”! See #3 at this link if you are doubtful.

Great thanks to Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Marine Services for making this dive possible.

Media coverage so thankfully resulting from this blog includes:

 

Octopused! A story in grainy pictures.

I am typing with salt still encrusted to my face and hair. I really should warm up from my dive and wash off the NE Pacific before sharing this with you but this is the kind of story you want to shout from the seamount tops. However, be warned, there is a bit of a dark side to the story too.

Today, while doing a shore dive in Port Hardy with the intention of surveying the health of sea stars*, I had the most wondrous experience I have ever had with not one, but two giant Pacific octopuses.

While photographing a sea star I must have disturbed the first octopus because when I looked down, wondering what had caused a massive disruption of hooded nudibranchs from the kelp, there she/he was in full glory – posturing to show me his/her impressive size, hooded nudibranchs undulating all around.

I even ended up with a hooded nudibranch stuck to my mask, which I gently shook off as I am a poor surrogate for kelp!

After I recovered from the shock of this all and  mumbled an apology in the guilt of triggering the chaos, I looked at the octopus for a bit  . . . and she/he looked at me. We both settled down, apparent in the case of the octopus in that he/she was no longer posturing and reverted to camouflage colours rather than alarm vibrance.

After some minutes, the assessment appeared to be made by this sentient being that I was not a risk; and that there was no need to hide (nor ink!). As a result, for half an hour I was able to (respectfully) follow along as the octopus hunted.

I was allowed to learn about hunting strategy and see how the colour and texture changed as it moved and how the mantle would flash white as it pounced upon prey.

The only thing that stopped this deeply awe-inspiring experience was that dive buddy, Alex Spicer, found a second octopus in the open!

This much smaller octopus was using giant kelp like a hammock.

The divers among you know what a rare gift it is to find one, let alone two, (unhabituated) octopuses out of their dens, certainly during daytime.  The underwater photographers and videographers among you would be twitching all the more, knowing what an incredible opportunity this offers to capture the beauty of these giant wonders.

Here’s the dark side. Thankfully it is a literal dark side. My strobes (flashes) didn’t work properly and it was my own doing. It’s been a crazy week of work and, in the flurry resulting from wanting to fit in a dive, I forgot the cables that hook the strobes to the camera.

Yes, I was given what may be the opportunity of a lifetime but failed to fully capture the beauty of it, leaving you with only the grainy images below. However, I got to fully live the experience and had anything changed in the course of events that led to today’s dive, likely I wouldn’t have been octopused at all.

I hope the images are still enough to illuminate the joy and wonder I felt.

[Be sure you scroll down for the photo of the little guy in the kelp hammock!]

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 shortly after we'd both collected ourselves. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 shortly after we’d both collected ourselves. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Getting checked out by Giant Pacific Octopus #1. Hooded nudibranchs in the foreground. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Getting checked out by Giant Pacific Octopus #1. Hooded nudibranchs in the foreground. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 with quillback rockfish to left. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 with mantle flashing white which it seemed to do when it pounced on prey (a crab in this case - I think) © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 with mantle flashing white which it seemed to do when it pounced on prey (a crab in this case – I think) © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 with hooded nudibranchs © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 with hooded nudibranchs © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 feeling around for prey. Rose anemone in the foreground (aka fish-eating anemone) © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 feeling around for prey. Rose anemone in the foreground (aka fish-eating anemone) © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 with hooded nudibranchs in the background © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #1 with hooded nudibranchs in the background © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #2 - much smaller and using the giant kelp as a hammock. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus #2 – much smaller and using the giant kelp as a hammock. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

[*On this dive there was no evidence of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome but I have now documented its presence. See these blog items.]

Octo-brrr Octopus!

Image 1: Oct 29, 2011 Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo: Jackie Hildering.

It was 7.2° C (45° F)  in the ocean yesterday. Even in summer, I’ve only experienced a high of about 10° C. 

Typical for Northern Vancouver Island at this time of year, it was also windy enough for us to abort going out for a boat dive.  

Windy, chilly, drizzly, grey . . . what’s a cold-water scuba diver to do?

Get in the cold, dark green water however you can because you KNOW what kind of beauty and wonder are always to be found below the surface, even where you moor your boat! 

And indeed, under the dock, at only 6 m (20′) we found a Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), curled up on a piling, incredibly tolerant of  this ecstatic marine educator. Octopuses are SUCH intelligent animals.  I felt as much like I was being scrutinized as he/she must have felt as I observed and photographed this awe-inspiring creature.  

This individual was “only” about average size (23 to 42 kg).  They can weigh more than 73 kg!  I promise many more details on this species in future blog items.

Image 2: Oct 29, 2011 Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo: Jackie Hildering.

There was so much other beauty under the dock but, for this blog posting, I will leave it at sharing the wonder of this Octo-brr octopus. 

 Bring on Novem-brrr to Fe-brrr-ary! The cold-water diving is so worth it! 

To see these (and additional) images from this octopus photo-shoot at full size, click here.

I would greatly appreciate it if you would let me know, via blog comments, which image (#1 to 6) you believe is the best. This will determine which image ends up in next year’s WILD Northern Vancouver Island Calendar.


To see video of a Giant Pacific Octopus subtly changing colour and texture, please see this previous blog item. 

Image 3: Oct 29, 2011 Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo: Jackie Hildering.

Image 4: Oct 29, 2011 Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo: Jackie Hildering.

Image 5: Oct 29, 2011 Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo: Jackie Hildering.

Image 6: Oct. 29 Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo: Hildering

Giant Pacific Octopus – Video

Giant Pacific Octopus subtly changing colour and texture. Video by Erika Grebeldinger.

Remarkable video of a Giant Pacific Octopus juvenile subtly changing texture and colour to better match its surroundings.

When full grown, this species can be over 7 m from arm tip to arm tip and over 73 kg = the biggest species of octopus in the world.

The video was taken by fellow Top Island Econauts Dive Club diver Erika Grebeldinger during one of our dives last month. It is testament to the calibre of her diving and concern for the environment that she was able to “capture” such natural behaviour. It the octopus had been agitated, s/he would have flashed red, postured and/or inked.

Having previously posted this video on Facebook, I love Will Soltau’s observation of how the octopus leaves no footprint and what a different world it would be if we humans were more like octopus in this respect.

Thank you so much for sharing Erika!

Video below added on November 25th, 2011 from You Tube – Octopus walking on land in California at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.