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Posts Tagged ‘octopus’

Photo: Dorothea Oldani via Unsplash.
Divers get to see wonders the rest of us only dream about.

I’m always intrigued by all the different kinds of work that exist. Today we learn about the work of a diver who is also a successful author.

From the environmental radio show Living on Earth: “Underwater explorer Craig Foster dives nearly every day in the near-shore waters of South Africa, and it’s here that he befriended an octopus, a relationship captured in the 2020 Academy Award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher. His 2021 book Underwater Wild: My Octopus Teacher’s Extraordinary World brings the kelp forest to life with stunning photographs and gripping prose. Craig Foster joined Host Steve Curwood for a recent Living on Earth Book Club event to discuss the power of connecting with wild nature. …

“STEVE CURWOOD: Oceans cover about 70 percent of our planet and hold 95 percent of our biosphere, that is, places where life can thrive. … Befriending and learning from creatures with gills and without back bones is an unusual pastime for humans, unless you are Craig Foster. Diving virtually every day for years into the near shore waters of South Africa with just a mask, snorkel and flippers, Craig eventually became friends with an octopus and told the story in his 2020 academy award winning documentary, My Octopus Teacher. …

“With friend and diving partner Ross Frylinck, he wrote the 2021 book, Underwater Wild: My Octopus Teacher’s Extraordinary World. [It] tells the stories of the kelp forest with stunning photographs and gripping prose. Craig joined me from Cape Town for a recent Living on Earth Book Club event. I started by asking him to describe where he dives in this underwater world just offshore.

“CRAIG FOSTER: The Great African Sea Forest stretches from right up Namibia all along the West Coast of South Africa, and then turns around the point and goes a few hundred kilometers up the East Coast. It’s about 1,400 kilometers in length. And the actual kelp itself grows to up to 15 meters, or 45 feet, in length. … There are an enormous number of animals in the kelp [and] a great biodiversity of animals living around the forest itself. …

“CURWOOD: One of the most remarkable moments in [My Octopus Teacher] is when she actually extends her arm, a tentacle, and touches your hand. Why do you suppose a wild animal would make contact with a human in this way? …

“FOSTER: In the case of octopus, or cephalopods, they have a natural curiosity. So their whole lives are balanced between this fear and curiosity. And they’re almost like a cat — you know how curious cats are, they just can’t help themselves. …

“CURWOOD: You introduce us to another cephalopod in the kelp forest there: the cuttlefish. And you were lucky enough to witness an incredible display of how cuttlefish have mastered the art of mimicry. …

“FOSTER: I remember very clearly the first day that I saw a tuberculate cuttlefish. This is a small species of cuttlefish that only occurs in South Africa. And they are such masters of camouflage that [when] I looked at this creature, I had no idea what it was. I thought maybe it’s a strange piece of algae. … And it was mimicking the algae. And this animal then changed into a cuttlefish and jetted off and left a puff of ink in front of my face. [This] animal is even better at camouflage than an octopus, if you can imagine that. It’s very small, very vulnerable, soft bodied. So it’s got this incredible way of pretending to be a hard-shelled whelk.

It changes its whole body shape, and it points its arms, and it changes its color, and even tiny details of these little polychaete worms that grow on the backs of the whelk shells, it even mimics those.

“So it fools predators into thinking it’s a hard shell. It even then sometimes pretends to be a hermit crab living in that hard shell, and drags itself along slowly, when it can actually swim, you know, relatively fast. And then if it has to swim, it can actually mimic a fish called a klipvis that lives in this environment. So this animal is truly the master of mimicry and camouflage, it’s quite incredible. …

“CURWOOD: [Living on Earth listener] Nathalie Arias, who’s in the eighth grade asks, ‘How have you used what you’ve learned from the octopus and the experience in your personal life? …

“FOSTER: When you start having relationships with wild animals, and a lot of wild animals, it takes a lot of pressure, strangely enough, off your human relationships. You know, we rely very heavily on human relationships for our well being. But as you start having the relationships with these wild animals, and spending time with them, and I like sometimes spending time alone with them, you kind of feel that — it’s a wonderful feeling — the pressure off the human relationships. … It’s improved, I think, my human relationships.

“CURWOOD: So to what extent does the ocean heal you? I mean, you and your co-author Ross mention in this volume that you’ve been recovering from emotionally traumatic experiences you, you’ve had; you talk about divorce, Ross mentions a sad, difficult relationship with his father. So how has the ocean healed you?

“FOSTER: I think in actually in a number of ways. As I say, the daily immersion, almost anybody can be in a, not a very good mood, or quite tired, lethargic. And I promise you, I’ll take you into that water, 20 minutes later, you’re going to feel completely different. It almost works for everybody. And that’s because there is actually a big brain chemistry shift and a physiological shift, and that can last for many hours of the day. And then of course, having a relationship with wild animals changes one dramatically. You feel connected to your environment, you know their behaviors, you have a sense of place, you don’t feel so separate a lot of the time, you know, so separate; you feel like you are connected to an environment. And that, psychologically, is very empowering.”

Read about Foster encountering a Great White Shark, an amazing clawless otter, and other wonders at Living on Earth, here. Nice pictures. No firewall.

Photo: Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck.
This image of a global bubble-raft shell was taken from below, looking up to the surface. This animal creates a stiff raft out of a stream of bubbles so it can float. They lay their eggs on the raft, too, and that’s what’s visible here: the darker eggs were laid first and have developed more than the newly laid pink ones.

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Photo: Phil Torres, Dr. Geoff Wheat
Seventeen octopods huddled on the Dorado Outcrop, two miles underwater near Costa Rica. Most are in a brooding (in the sense of baby-launching) posture.

Not sure where I picked up this octopus story, maybe from twitter. But who knows? Sometimes I learn facts about sea creatures from the Octonauts-loving grandchildren. (I’m grateful that cartoons these days have educational content. The cartoons I watched as a child were often no more than a bunch of mice running around and squeaking.)

Maddie Stone reports at Earther, “Scientists have made a truly bizarre discovery on an expanse of cooled lava 150 miles west of Costa Rica and nearly two miles underwater. There, they laid eyes on more than a hundred female octopuses, tending to eggs that didn’t seem to be growing in water that seemed too warm for their liking.

“Deep sea octopuses are a rare sight, and it’s even rarer to catch them in the act of brooding. So when Janet Voight, a deep sea biologist at the Field Museum of Natural History, examined footage collected at the Dorado Outcrop during a 2013-14 study of warm hydrothermal fluids seeping out of cracks in the rocks, it was nothing short of shocking to discover an enormous camp of tentacled, seemingly-expectant moms. …

“It’s [puzzling], because deep sea octopuses tend to thrive in near freezing temperatures. Warm water speeds up their metabolism, causing them to use up too much oxygen. And indeed, when lead study author Anne Hartwell examined the octopods’ breathing patterns in hundreds of hours of video footage collected by an ROV and a crewed underwater vehicle, she learned that those in or near hydrothermal fluids were breathing faster, suggesting oxygen stress.

“Moreover, none of the nearly 200 eggs the researchers examined appeared to be developing at all. …

“The researchers go on to speculate that females are drawn to the area because of the lack of sediment, which makes it easier to anchor their eggs, blissfully unaware of their new home’s thermostat problem.

“As the authors explain, hydrothermal fluid discharges can ramp up quickly at any given site, and once a female chooses a place to brood, she’s stuck with it — stressful environment or not. …

“Nicole Morgan, a deep sea biologist at Florida State University who also wasn’t involved, told Earther in a Twitter DM that while the water is warm, it’s ‘not outside known ranges for the octopus genus.’ The oxygen levels are also low but not lethal, she said, suggesting ‘the authors are probably right that this is sub-par brooding habitat.’

“ ‘I think they have captured a snapshot of what evolution looks like in real life — they are brooding in an area that is stressful but available and not immediately lethal,’ Morgan continued. ‘More likely than not this subpopulation will die out because of the high egg fatality, but if some eggs do survive, that could be a start to speciation.’ ”

More here.

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These photos are from my rambles in downtown Boston, which I will be leaving at the end of the year for a new commute to Providence.

The first picture shows strange reflections on an iconic piece of local architecture. Then we have musicians in South Station, an octopus sculpture at the convention center, a lovely floral display by the landscape genius where I currently work, fall color in the Greenway, and more color along Fort Point Channel in front of the Children’s Museum.

What a neighborhood!

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I was charmed by Sy Montgomery’s recent article in the Boston Globe on the intelligence of octopi (she says “octopuses”).

The author of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, Montgomery describes getting to know a clever and apparently affectionate octopus called Octavia.

“Everyone wanted to pet Octavia,” she writes. “And no wonder. She was beautiful, graceful, and affectionate. The fact that she was boneless, slimy, and living in painfully cold, 47-degree water deterred none of us.

“What thrilled us — me, New England Aquarium volunteer Wilson Menashi, and four visitors from the environmental radio show Living on Earth was the surprising fact that Octavia, who clearly wanted to be petted, was a giant Pacific octopus.

“When her keeper, Bill Murphy, opened the top of her exhibit, Octavia recognized Menashi and me immediately; we’d been working with her for several weeks. Turning red with excitement, she flowed over toward us from the far side of her tank. When we put our hands in the water, her arms rose to meet ours, embracing us with dozens of her strong, sensitive, white suckers. Occasionally Wilson handed her a fish from the plastic bucket perched on the edge of her tank. …

“Then, as Menashi reached for another capelin to feed her, we realized the bucket of fish was gone. While no fewer than six people were watching, and three of us had our arms in her tank, Octavia had stolen the bucket right out from under us.

“ ‘Octopuses are phenomenally smart,’ Menashi says. And he should know: He has worked with them for 20 years, and is expert in keeping these intelligent invertebrates occupied. Otherwise, they become bored. Aquariums design elaborate escape-proof lids for their octopus tanks, and still they are often thwarted. Octopuses not infrequently slip out of their exhibits and turn up in other tanks to eat the inhabitants.

“Many aquariums give their octopuses Legos to dismantle, jars with lids to unscrew, and Mr. Potato Head to play with. Menashi, a retired inventor, designed a series of nesting Plexiglas cubes, each with a different lock, which Boston’s octopuses quickly learned to open to get at a tasty crab inside. And just this spring, New Zealand Sea Life aquarists teamed up with Sony engineers to teach a female octopus named Rambo to press the red shutter button on a waterproof camera to take photos of visitors, which the aquarium sells for $2 each to benefit its conservation programs. Rambo learned in three attempts.”

What a different perspective on the scary beast in the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I saw as a child.

I’d love to copy the whole intriguing article, but I’m afraid that would not be “fair use.” So read it all here.

Photo: Tia Strombeck
Sy Montgomery pets Octavia, an octopus at the New England Aquarium in Boston.

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Have you ever taken out-of-town guests to see the glass flowers at Harvard? They are among the area’s must-see attractions.

The Czech father-son team Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created the flowers in the 19th century, when they also made glass replicas of sea creatures.

Now scientists are comparing the duo’s marine life to what exists today. Have the creatures evolved? Are some extinct?

“I’ve been a marine biologist my entire professional life,” write C. Drew Harvell in the Science section of the NY Times, “spending more than 25 years researching the health of corals and sustainability of reefs. I’m captivated by the magic of sessile [attached by the base]  invertebrates like corals, sponges and sea squirts — creatures vital to the ecosystem yet too often overlooked in favor of more visible animals like sharks and whales.

“The filmmaker David O. Brown and I want to change that. To make a documentary, Fragile Legacy, we are on a quest to lure these elusive and delicate invertebrates in front of the camera lens.

“Our inspiration springs from an unlikely source: a collection of 570 superbly wrought, anatomically perfect glass sculptures of marine creatures from the 19th century.

“These delicate folds and strands of glass make up the Blaschka collection of glass invertebrates at Cornell, of which I am the curator — enchanting and impossibly rare jellyfishes of the open ocean; more common but equally beautiful octopus, squid, anemones and nudibranchs from British tide pools and Mediterranean shores.

“They are the work of an extraordinary father-and-son team, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.”

The rest of the story is worth your time. Check it out.

Photo: Kent Loeffler
A glass sculpture of Facelina drummondii, a sea slug in Cornell’s Blaschka collection.

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