A marine biologist has shared rare footage of one of the world’s most dazzling sea creatures, after a ‘once-in-a-lifetime encounter’ with the animal.
Jacinta Shackleton was snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia, when she came across a rarely seen blanket rainbow-hued octopus swimming in the clear waters below.
She immediately began filming the animal in its natural habitat, and upon returning to dry land posted the footage to Instagram, telling her followers of her shock and awe at the sighting.
‘Today I had such an incredible snorkel and came across a BLANKET OCTOPUS! These animals are a rarely encountered pelagic octopus species that spend their whole lifecycle in the open ocean,’ she said.
To fully explain just how incredibly special an encounter this was, Shackleton went on to say that blanket octopuses have been rarely seen in the oceans, with the first live male sighted just 20 years ago in 2002.
‘The colours in her cape were incredible and it was fascinating to watch the way she moved through the water,’ Shackleton wrote in a follow-up post. ‘Surely a once-in-a-lifetime encounter for me, so grateful!’
As Shackleton explained, the species are rarely spotted largely because they spend most of their time in the open ocean, rather than in shallower parts of the sea where they might be more likely to be encountered by scuba divers and snorkelers.
According to National Geographic, it’s easy to tell male and female blanket octopuses apart. While male octopuses tend to grow to less than an inch in length, females can reach up to six feet, utterly dwarfing their male counterparts.
The species was first discovered in 1963 and earned its name thanks to the thin webbing that joins the creatures’ arms. The webbing acts as a defence when the animals encounter predators, allowing them to create a larger silhouette designed to scare off attackers.
Blanket octopuses have other hidden talents too. Unlike other sea creatures, they are immune to Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish stings, and have even been known to pull tentacles from the highly venomous animal to brandish as their own weapons.
It’s not clear how the rainbow-hued octopus spotted by Shackleton came to be in such shallow waters, but the marine biologist can count herself lucky she did.
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