Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fascinating Octopus in Hawaii

Until recently it was rare for us to see an octopus while snorkeling.  Now we've learned more about how to look for them and have found a place where we see them about 50 percent of the time.

Octopuses (sometimes called octopi) are wonderful mimics and it is that ability that I find most fascinating.  I've seen them take the appearance of their surroundings and even look like other animals.  The beak is the only hard part of an octopus, so that allows him to fit into some pretty small spaces.  We've seen the octopus below (who looked 3 feet across not counting legs) slip into a hole with an opening no bigger than my fist. 

It is exciting to see an octopus cycle through and flash their colors very quickly.  We've seen cuttlefish and squid do this also (but not in Hawaii).  Octopuses also change their texture, and watching them quickly change from a smooth soft skinned animal to one that is rough, bumpy, and spiky is a treat.

I was lucky to see this octopus change from looking like a rock to looking like a fish.  For only a moment did he look like what I thought an octopus would look like.  If you snorkel around looking for the octopus you see in the third photo below, you're more than likely not going to find an octopus. 

Bill captured this 10-second series of photos of an octopus moving from his stake-out point to hiding under the near by ledge.  Missing is the before photo of the octopus looking like looking like a hump of coral.  He was the same shape, texture, and color of the other humps.

Note: I left the aqua color cast to the photos, because it is closer to what you will see.  The color red doesn't travel more than about 10 feet under water, and this guy is about 20-feet from the surface.

Day Octopus often found in Hawaiian waters. Photos by Bill Edwards (c) 2013
In this first photo he is already starting his move and his color change as Bill approaches him.

2 of 5 Day Octopus often found in Hawaiian waters. Photos by Bill Edwards (c) 2013
The second photo shows more color change and movement.

3 of 5 Day Octopus often found in Hawaiian waters. Photos by Bill Edwards (c) 2013
This third photo is what I think of when when I think of an octopus.
The forth and fifth photos in this series I didn't include, because he's a black blur as he darts across to the rock ledge.
4 of 5 Day Octopus often found in Hawaiian waters. Photos by Bill Edwards (c) 2013
The moment before he's pulled his legs in and becomes part of the shadows under the ledge.
5 of 5 Day Octopus often found in Hawaiian waters. Photos by Bill Edwards (c) 2013
I've lightened the shadows and highlighted the octopus so you can find him under the ledge.
A second later, his legs were pulled in, and he'd perfectly matched the color of the surrounding rocks.

We've made a habit of looking for him when we're in the area.  One day there were three octopus in the area and we saw what looked like a fight (video to come).  I won't tell you where he lives, because he'd be easy prey for spear fisherman who hunt the area. 

Snorkel Tip:  One of the biggest mistakes I see novice snorkelers make, is that they treat snorkeling like going for a jog.  They splash around and swim quickly through the water.  Sea life quickly disappears, and these snorkelers miss all but the most common fish.  Remember it isn't the distance you travel or how fast you get there, so slow down, float, hover and really look around. 

There are also snorkelers who are "experience collectors," checking off each animal they see.  While this can be fun and even a good distraction if you're nervous, I recommend taking some time and following a single fish, or hovering over a single coral head and watching what happens.  If you're lucky enough to find an octopus stay with him for a while, relax, and just watch; maybe he'll put on a show for you. 

So hang out on top of the water, and instead of looking for that classic octopus shape, look for movement and rocks that change color.  Sometimes the only movement you'll see is the movement of the funnel / siphon opening and closing as the octopus expels water from his body after he's extracted the oxygen.  If the octopus is in a hole, you may see movement from his eye or his funnel only.  Don't look for a specific color, because they will most often look like their surroundings.

Fun fact:  Octopuses don't have bones (except for their beak).  Think of them like the muscles in your tongue - very strong, capable of intricate movements, and able to become short and fat or long and thin.  What looks the size of a softball can in a moment be three feet across plus legs, then slip into a hole with an opening the smaller than your fist.

Day Octopus by Bill Edwards
Article by Engela