I’ve found myself in a place that strikes me as being a little unreal… In fact, I’m in a place that seems more like a computer desktop background than real life. Yet – the sun is warming my face, and the blue, blue ocean and towering mountainous outcroppings are filling my view.
I see now why Arthur Frommer (of Frommer’s Travel Guides) has called Mo’orea in French Polynesia the most beautiful island in the world.
Not only is it beautiful, but Mo’orea – where I write from – is a far-flung tropical island that was explored by Samuel Wallis and Captain James Cook (you can view this island via Google satellite maps here).
I’m also glad to be here because I love octopuses, and somewhere in these beautiful warm waters lives the day octopus (Octopus cyanea). This octopus is currently the subject of a study by three different scientists from across the Americas, and is headed up by Dr. Jennifer Mather of the University of Lethbridge.
I met Dr. Mather in October of 2010. It was shortly after two octopuses, Clove and C.C., mated. It was something I found greatly exciting, and I was pleased to meet someone who was just as excited about it as I was – Dr. Mather, or Jennifer, as I call her.
In Jennifer’s network, there are two other octopus-focused scientists who research many of her research interests – what octopuses eat, their foraging techniques, the diversity of their diet, the diversity of the habitat around them and how it impacts what food they chose to eat, how many food options they have and why they seem to select certain specific types of prey (I could go on and on).
Those scientists are Dr. David Scheel, program director of the marine biology program at Alaska Pacific University, and Tatiana Leite, professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte and the leader of the Laboratory of Benthos and Cephalopods.
We are also joined by author Sy Montgomery, who started the popular series of children’s books called “Scientists in the Field” (which you should definitely look up). Sy is documenting this journey for a new ‘Scientists’ book, and she’s brought with her the ultra-talented underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen, who is an assistant professor in the Photography Program at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), who kindly agreed to help illustrate our adventures.
What brings us all to the South Pacific? Well, Jennifer, David and Tatiana all wanted to learn the same answer to the complicated question of how the octopus comes to eat what is eats. Jennifer has done a diet study previously with O. cynea in Hawaii, and she found that the octopuses there almost predominantly ate crabs, when other food choices (snails, other crustaceans, clams, scallops, etc.) were everywhere. Why always this crab? What impacted this prey choice? Was it the area around their home? The personality of the octopus? What food is actually available?
Well, to answer all of these additional questions, Jennifer hatched the plan of continuing to study these octopuses in a different spot – preferably one with a field station on which she and her team could be based. So they chose the CRIOBE research station located on Mo’orea, French Polynesia.
And because they needed an extra hand, I have arrived on this “computer desktop photo” island to spend my days searching for my favourite animal and assisting in research that will deepen our understanding about this fascinating creature.
Over the next three weeks I’ll send more updates to let you know what we’ve found beneath the blue waves that lap the island of Mo’orea.
Guest blog post by Keely Langford, an interpretive delivery specialist at the Vancouver Aquarium. Keely is accompanying a team of researchers, led by Dr. Jennifer Mather of University of Lethbridge, to the South Pacific this summer. This team of researchers is studying how the day octopus (Octopus cyanea) chooses its food. Keely will be sharing a series of blog post updates on this initiative during the next several weeks.