Day 514: Pint-sized octopus steals the morning

Check out a video of a half-inch cephalapod

“Oooh, what’s that?”

So many startling finds on Kwaj start with a quick intake of breath before whooshing out that question. A focused examination of some small creature immediately follows. A couple weeks ago, during a near-noon tide pool walk, a friend of mine pointed at a speck oozing through a pool of water about an inch deep and 5 inches across.

At first,  I thought I saw a shrimp scuttling along the rock, but when I squatted down for a closer investigation, the small creature seemed to be almost liquid, spreading into a crevice or pooling into a dip in the rock as easily as if it were spilled oil. 

“I think it’s a baby octopus,” my friend said, surprise and delight evident in her voice.

Indeed, she had spotted a half-inch long baby octopus, thin-skinned, translucent as the papery layer between orange sections. He seemed to be investigating the edges of the tiny pool, sliding out of the water to – we speculated – look for a bigger pool with a place to hide before reversing direction and flowing back into the drink.

A morning reef walk led to spotting this juvenile octopus in a tide pool.

Spotting an enigmatic octopus interrupts a snorkel, dive or tide pool adventure with immobilized observation. Once, while exploring the far edge of the oceanside reef, Brad found a juvenile octopus about the length of my index finger. The waves were washing it around in a few inches of water, so it appeared to be swimming, but after observing for a few more seconds, we realized the octopus was dead, probably a victim of the hot sun and too-warm low-tide pools. Its once constantly adjusting color had faded to a dull grey, and the suckers on its tentacles were vividly white. The limp body pulsed with the motion of the water, but instead of investigating cracks and crevices or pouring itself into a small hole, the arms lay limp, the bulbous head stretched oblong. 

With waves gently swishing this octopus’s tentacles, Brad and I thought it was still alive.

The same week, on a snorkel adventure with a few friends in the lagoon, we were so busy diving down to observe an anemone, we didn’t notice an octopus hunting directly below us, but once we recognized it, we stopped everything to float above it, occasionally plunging down for a closer look. The seemingly fragile skin webbed between its legs undulated over the coral as it reached tentacles into the rocks and snatched food into the beak at the center of its body. When it melted under a rock to hide from us, we continued our swim reluctantly.

An octopus is always the center of attention with its undulating arms and seemingly fragile skin.

Every octopus encounter is full of wonder, surprise, and new observations of color or behavior in the underwater eight-legged animal. Try it for yourself and see: