I dive to see the fish (in the sea). I take pictures. Hey! It’s what I do for fun now. Some people like watching paint dry. I don’t watch golf. I played tennis. They told me there are golf courses in Jeddah. Imagine that?! Too hot!
The flip side – go to a fish market and they have displays with untold numbers of squid and octopus. It’s a very big part of the seven fishes feast at Christmas for Italian Americans. I heard about this for years from Ginny.
I will insert an aside – non sequitur – but sort of related. When I was a kid, my dad came home with a live carp. How? He, like many Chinese, love fresh fish. How? He brought it home from the market in paper and it was still alive. How? He put it into the bathtub and it swam. Ah! No more baths for me…ever! I tell you, that was exactly my thought process in that moment. A bit later he slaughtered that fish. Yes, he cut off its head and I saw blood and the tail flopping. I was changed forever. And that memory sits burning brightly. I also realized that baths would resume shortly after.
When I learned to dive, I quickly found out that seeing octopi is rare. They do not congregate. They are very shy and solitary. Which translates – they are hard to see and harder to photograph – if you see them in the first place.
Ah! I was early to the resort. I was meeting some other divers. There are tourists in the water. And! Whoa! One caught an octopus bare handed. I moved in for a photograph. No problem. Then… he strangled it in his bare hands! It turned all colors and tried to camouflage itself till it died and reverted to plain brown. The killer left it in the Styrofoam cooler with life juices on the bottom while he sought other prey.
Yeah, I was stunned. If I had to slaughter my own cow, for sure I’d be a vegetarian… It was pretty graphic to watch him kill dinner in front of me.
I haven’t seen one since the winter. I guess they go south. Who knows? But in the last few dives I’ve seen a few. Or, maybe it’s the same guy. They are pretty solitary. Except someone has pictures of them mating. Have a look. Tell me who’s the boy and who’s the girl. Nope. Not here, it’s one or the other. This is one skittish octopus. It changed color and camouflage several times. It did not slip under the coral and hide. So this series gives you an idea of the show it put on for me. I happened along at the right moment. My buddy drifted patiently nearby while I feasted with my camera. Later he told me his battery was dead. The happy ending is that we saw him again on the next dive. Can you imagine? Of course you can’t. It’s near to impossible to go back and see the same creature again. So maybe the second time was the she we’ve been wondering about.
The base color is a deep brown. I’ve seen the octopus touch down on the coral and change color and texture in a matter of seconds. Curiously, this guy did not squirt ink. He put on a great show for me – all for free.
Action – the human eye is evolved to detected motion and contrast. Things moving attract our attention as a potential threat to our own survival. And we look at contrast to pick out things that do not belong. Once detected the octopus has several choices. It can run. It usually tries to hide. And it can mimic its surroundings. This is done rapidly and colorfully to match itself to the surrounding coral. But once you see it the color change is pretty obvious. I do admire the camouflage. Finally there is ink which can be squirted strategically to startle the pursuer. This actually worked upon me the first time I encountered this trick. This was the first octopus of the day and I got to see color changes. No he did not surprise me. And in return I took his picture and did not eat him.
Last year I had a banner year for octopus encounters. I saw them in the open, changing camouflage, moving, and even on a night dive. So I have become blasé. We saw this guy and he was not in the open or doing any tricks. He was tiny. And then I wondered. The first time I saw a glimpse of an octopus I was so excited. Have I become so inured as to be bored with such a rare subject? Certainly I have seen many a lionfish. And even stonefish are pretty common in my files. Nope. Octopus is still big in my encounter category.
The octopus tried camouflage, then it ran, and finally a squirt of ink. I had been surprised by ink before so I was prepared to keep an eye on the octopus’s movement. No we weren’t there to eat it. So after I got my shots we retreated and the octopus swam away free of our encounter.It’s hard to ever see an octopus in the open. I have seen just parts of their bodies. Then, recently, I had the luck to see them frequently and even during a night dive. There are enough in the ocean to fill seafood stores and restaurant menus. I still find an octopus encounter a rare event when diving. And now I am getting some shots with tentacles. Great!
I had a very productive series of dive in which I saw octopi in the open many times. After more than one hundred dives the best I had before was the mere glimpse of a body or tentacle. What I was seeing was very special. National Geographic will only publish one shot. But I have no restriction. This series was at the end of another dive and I was on low battery power warning. Every thing held together. We chased this guy down and kept following him as he flowed over the coral. You can see multiple camouflage changes. The natural color is a chocolate brown. The color changes are accompanied by texture changes within seconds. I wondered why he didn’t squirt ink. Meanwhile he was accommodating and let me get images of all his changes.
Experience teaches you that some things are special when you find them. You just never know when you will see it again, if ever. Ordinarily octopi are very shy and hide inside coral so you see some texture and the rest is left to imagination. I was having a very good dive week. This one was sitting in the open and letting me shoot from all angles. Sometimes the wildlife is very skittish and sometimes they just sit and let you have at it. The problem is when you have all the shots you need and the octopus is still posing. So I got a movie and kept changing angles. Some shots work and others don’t. I like being able to see the tentacles and suckers. This octopus was very cooperative. He finally moved and I got motion shots.
Some days are like that. It was a magical dive.
On a night dive it is special to see an octopus. I guess it is the season right now. I was fortunate to see them quite frequently in the flurry of recent dives. We caught this guy in the open! That is unusual. He was unsure whether to run or hide. So we split the difference. I was able to get the shots. I have been in the Red Sea for a while. And to see an octopus is not usual. For some reason all my dive buddies were seeing them and sharing their observations. Sometimes you just hit it right.
I once said I shot a moose and someone asked what gun I used. Really!!?? Octopi are shy. They stay hidden and blend with the environment. The human eye is trained to see movement. It’s a protective mechanism to keep alive. Something well camouflaged is easily missed. I’d have missed the octopus otherwise. We, not me, saw it swimming in the open over the coral reef. Off I went swimming as fast I was able. Since the octopus was interested in hiding it soon dropped into the coral. It did not shoot ink as once happened to me. That time it worked as I was startled and the octopus slipped away in a cloud of dark ink. This time I watched the octopus and was shooting away with my camera. The poor thing was unable to decide what camouflage to adapt. I can tell you that the change takes only a few seconds. Yes, they really do change over fast. The natural color is brown. Back in December I watched in horror as someone barehanded executed a captured one. This guy changed back and forth for a while and then found a nice deep hole in the coral. In the image below you can appreciate how well the camouflage can look. The change can occur in the blink of an eye. At one point my gloved hand brushed a tentacle. It was like touching Velcro. I was a bit timid and didn’t touch it again. My camera was working. White balance was good. Focus was sharp. It was great! …about as much fun as you can have with a wet suit on.
There’s a recent article in the NY Times about a Brooklyn fish store called the Octopus Garden, which is very busy for Christmas and sells octopus for all manner of the Christmas eve celebration of the Seven Fishes. They also supply many restaurants in NY. And there was another article I saw where a fisherman/diver took a Pacific octopus in California and was scorned by other divers and has since been refused training as a rescue diver in retaliation.
It’s darned hard to see an octopus in the Red Sea. When you find one it’s an event! I have had limited opportunity to photograph any octopi. They are on the menu for dinner and it is found in the fish market. You can’t have it on a restaurant menu if it can’t be caught in sufficient quantity to serve for dinner.
My problem, like the Pacific diver above, is that the dive resort is like a zoo. We dive and look at the fish. We don’t kill them and eat them. Yes, they are caught somewhere and indeed seafood is a major part of the diet around here in Saudi Arabia. I just have trouble with someone going to an aquarium and eating the fish in the tank when everyone else is there to see the fish.
I had just arrived to dive and was laying out and organizing my stuff. There were some tourists snorkeling in the water. I paid no attention until a clamor arose and someone was wading into shore with an octopus attached to his arm. I initially thought he had brought it in to show his friends.
No!!! There was a Styrofoam box with a couple conch shells. He put the octopus into the box as his friends gathered around. In a moment and with a sickening feeling I realized what I was photographing. He was about to kill the creature! And he and a friend proceeded to strangle the octopus and gut it right there. The octopus had a brown pigmented color which soon drained away leaving a pale blue colorless cadaver and a lot of brown ink in the box. I am still shaken describing the scene.
I related this find to some of the other dive instructors who arrived after me. One said it was ok, they had caught it to eat it. And the second one chased the other men away and confiscated their gig to stop anymore fishing. There is one less octopus to find and photograph.
I suppose it’s ok. And he did catch the octopus bare handed. And he’s going to eat it ( I hope). And there was the article about Octopus Garden. I suppose if I want to get a picture of an octopus it would not be hard or unusual at Octopus Garden. It just wouldn’t quite be the same. And my timing… I had just arrived to dive and caught the whole gruesome event from start to finish. I had thought to stop the killing but I didn’t feel that I had the authority to act.