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Master Chef versus octopus: the ultimate challenge

By: Dr Mandy Reid, Category: Science, Date: 20 Mar 2015

With barbecue tongs blazing and hat askew, the Braveheart cook bags a beauty.

Master Chef versus octopus - Our cook, Charlie Bedford

Master Chef versus octopus - Our cook, Charlie Bedford
Photographer: Steve Keable © Australian Museum

‘Hey, that might be an octopus up on the shore there; just on the port.’ After not finding an octopus on a late afternoon dive, dive buddy Steve Keable spotted one sitting exposed on a weed-encrusted rock wall at Rapa Island, French Polynesia, just when we were all getting out of the water. Two of our dive team, Amelia and Skip were about to get back in the boat when excitement (mine) erupted.

With a solid reputation as a skilled octopus catcher, our ship’s cook, Charlie, sprung calmly into action. ‘We need a plan, we need a plan’! ‘Charlie do you want a plastic bag?’ In my panic I hand him a feeble plastic container, way too small. Why wasn’t he in the water already and grabbing it? I was about to jump overboard myself. ‘Wait for Charlie, Mandy, it’s not going anywhere.’ (Steve; ever composed in the face of a crisis.) ‘But it might, it might!’ Forgetting, of course, that octopuses can’t hear I feared that the sound of our engine might cause it to plop into the water, never to be seen again.

I was very keen to collect any cephalopods (squids, cuttlefish or octopuses) on this trip that we could and here was a rare chance. In some places, octopuses can be a bit hard to find. Rapa was proving to be one of those places. Ah, the frustration! So, a sighting was quite an event. But that was only half the problem solved. We needed to catch it.
Charlie was already pre-armed with his PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) — a pair of BBQ tongs in addition to his dive gloves. After warning the divers that there was an octopus at Rapa known by the locals as Fe’e mototi, or the ‘Poison ocellate octopus’, Charlie had adopted the tongs as a part of his collecting kit.

With typical British composure, he slid over the side of our inflatable tender and swam to the rock wall. A tussle followed, accompanied by a muffle of expletives that suggested that Charlie was perhaps not quite as unfazed as he outwardly appeared. But, he landed it!

Destined for research rather than our tummies, this was one of only six precious octopuses collected on our trip to French Polynesia.

More information:

Jereb, P., Roper, C. F. E., Norman, M. D., and Finn, J. K. (eds) (2014). Cephalopods of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of cephalopod species known to date. Volume 3. Octopods and Vampire Squids. FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes. No. 4, Vol. 3. Rome, FAO. 2014. 370 p. 11 colour plates.