Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Monday, June 21, 1999

Special time shared
with an octopus

One of the best things about being near the ocean is that sometimes, when you least expect it, a remarkable event occurs. I had such a moment recently while working aboard my sailboat in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor.

I know a man I'll call Dan who lives outdoors somewhere around Diamond Head. This intelligent man takes great pains to keep clean and is usually quite sociable.

Sometimes Dan believes that people are trying to hurt or harass him. Thus, encounters with Dan are unpredictable. You never know if you will be considered friend or foe.

So last week, when I heard this man calling my name, I wasn't sure what to do. I was below deck. Should I respond or hide? Would I be cursed or commended?

Hesitantly, I peeked out through a hatch and flashed my biggest smile. "Hello?"

"Come quick," Dan said, clearly excited. "There's something here you should see."

As I scrambled from the boat, Dan was hurrying to the next finger pier. There, he pointed to the clear water, just a few feet deep.

This octopus changed color and shape, becoming practically
unrecognizable as an octopus, just seconds after spotting
the photographer. From John Hoover's "Hawaii's Sea Creatures."

AT first I couldn't see any thing. Then, like one of those posters containing hidden pictures, an image suddenly became clear. There, perched on a rock for all the world to see, was a big, beautiful day octopus, a he'e mauli.

The creature had its arms, and the webs between them, spread wide, reminding me of a "Star Wars" creature in a fancy skirt. As Dan and I crouched down to watch, the animals' bulging eyes peered up at us. Since the water was so clear and shallow, I imagined the creature could see us as well.

Octopus eyes, strikingly similar to those of fish, are highly developed. At three feet away, an octopus can see an object as small as 1/4 inch. Such sharp eyesight is a distinct advantage in catching prey -- and checking out people.

Unperturbed, our octopus leisurely began moving along the rocks of the harbor, feeling its way with its eight arms, also called tentacles. Octopus tentacles are lined with suckers, each individually controlled by muscles and nerves. Working together, these suckers can provide a powerful grip or enable the animal to crawl gracefully over nearly any surface.

AS the rocky background changed behind our octopus, so did the octopus. It was amazing to stand on the harbor sidewalk and watch this creature perform some of nature's best magic. As it moved, the octopus instantly altered both its color and surface texture to match the rocks beneath it.

We watched the octopus explore the reef for at least 20 minutes, marveling at the animal's total transformations. Finally, the creature dropped into deep water and disappeared.

"It was nice sharing this with someone who appreciates it," Dan said, staring thoughtfully into the water.

"It was," I agreed. "Thanks for coming to get me. You really made my day."

"No," Dan said. "It was the octopus that made the day."

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears Mondays in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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