What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen underwater? Jacinta Shackleton’s a marine biologist and professional photographer and videographer, who’s no stranger to the wonders of the ocean. But even this encounter left her squealing with delight.
It’s believed to be only the fourth recorded sighting of the species in the area, and Jacinta couldn’t contain her excitement.
‘When I first saw it, I thought it could have been a juvenile fish with long fins, but as it came closer, I realised it was a female blanket octopus and I had this overwhelming sense of joy and excitement,’ she said.
‘I kept yelling through my snorkel, “It’s a blanket octopus!” I was so excited I was finding it difficult to hold my breath to dive down and video it.’
Blanket octopuses usually live in the open ocean and change location every couple of days, so to see one on the reef is extremely rare.
The rainbow-like ‘blanket’ that gives the octopus its name is only developed by the females of the species, creating one of the largest gender size discrepancies in the marine world.
Blanket octopus males only grow to around 2.4cm in size, while females, like the one Jacinta encountered, can grow up to two metres long with the help of the captivating blanket-like web that forms between their tentacles.
The blanket has many uses; it can be shed in order to evade predators, but can also carry the stingers of blue bottles and other species in an act of self-defence.
’They’re actually able to take stinging cells from other animals and then utilise those themselves,’ Jacinta said.
‘Seeing one in real life is indescribable, I was so captivated by its movements, it was as if it was dancing through the water with a flowing cape. The vibrant colours are just so incredible, you can’t take your eyes off it.’