It’s no secret that I’ve long been obsessed with giant Pacific octopuses. What’s not to love?
They’re the world’s biggest octopus species (and I do mean big – the largest ever found measured 9.8 metres), and they’re so strong that just a few seconds of sucker-to-skin contact will leave you speckled with ‘octo-hickeys’.
But biologist and cold-water diver Jackie Hilderingtaught me something new about these monumental mollusks: they do superb face hugger impressions.
Hildering snapped this photo series while diving the nutrient-rich, cold waters off the coast of Canada – a hotspot for finding GPOs (creatures she calls “invertebrate royalty”) in the wild.
She was photographing lingcod, a large fish with a particularly impressive set of chompers, when her dive partner Natasha Dickinson signalled her over. “I knew she had seen something interesting,” she recalls. “So I took a few more shots and then swam towards her. I found the octopus completely covering her head.”
Sadly, Hildering wasn’t able to capture the exact moment the octopus latched on, but she hopes the encounter will provide helpful information for those who find themselves in a similar predicament.
So, what do you do when a giant Pacific octopus ends up plastered across your face? Perhaps counter intuitively, the answer is to just relax. In fact, fighting an octopus this size is only going to tire you and use up precious oxygen. Just look how strong they are:
For Hildering, the main goal of posting about the encounter on her blog (you can read her full account here) has been to share her knowledge of these fascinating creatures – and to discourage their negative portrayal as dangerous or monstrous.
She’s also eager to emphasise that the interaction was unsolicited – merely a case of cephalopod curiosity. “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 individuals that are habituated to being fed by humans,” Hildering explains.
Like all cephalopods, these charismatic red octopuses are highly intelligent, curious animals. And thanks to their ability to individually rotate the 250 suckers on each of their eight arms, they’re also extremely dexterous.
“When I started to take photos, the octopus gradually backed away but had taken a particular interest in a clasp at the end of a bungee cord on Natasha’s gear,” she recalls.After about a minute or two of gently tugging on the cord, the octopus let go and moved on.
“Natasha is an incredibly skilled and experienced diver with a deep respect for marine life. She was clearly not afraid, nor was the octopus.
We, as divers, are so fortunate to come across [these animals] on their home turf where we can experience how inquisitive and intelligent they are.
Observe, marvel, share and help dispel some of the mythology and vilification about these fabulous marine neighbours,”Hildering says.
This article was first published by Earth Touch News Network on 26 Feb 2015.