Eight arms not enough: Octopus had help snagging shark
A video from the Seattle Aquarium showing an octopus killing a dogfish might not be the natural wonder it appears to be.
Seattle Times staff reporter
It's a video that reached viral status on the Internet some three years ago: The clip shows a giant Pacific octopus at the Seattle Aquarium attacking and killing a dogfish.
One posting of the YouTube video has been viewed 2.9 million times; another posting of the same video has 2.3 million viewings.
But the video had a bit of enhanced reality, what some might call "staging."
The dogfish (a type of shark) were moved along toward the octopus by divers, until the octopus finally went for one of them.
And, Laura Austin, communications specialist for the aquarium, remembers that in the 2000 filming, "not the healthiest dogfish were in there. ... I'm not sure what all was involved."
It's not that giant Pacific octopuses don't attack dogfish and make them part of their diet. They do.
But even in a tank, "you could wait weeks for it happen," says Michael deGruy, a renowned underwater photographer and filmmaker based in Santa Barbara, Calif.
He was the one doing a documentary called "The Octopus Show" for the PBS series "Nature." It aired in 2001. He had traveled to Australia, Hawaii and California to film the octopuses.
So things were sped along.
The filmmaker says he had contacted Seattle Aquarium because he wanted footage of giant Pacific octopuses taking care of their eggs. He thought filming in an aquarium would be better.
"You can only do so much in the field," says deGruy.
In the course of talking to Seattle Aquarium, he learned something that instantly made him decide to change the shoot.
The giant octopuses had been kept in the 400,000-gallon tank, filled with all kinds of marine life, that's a showcase at the aquarium,
But it turned out the octopuses were eating the dogfish, and so the octopuses were moved.
The filmmaker asked if, for the documentary, a giant octopus could be moved into the large tank so he could film an attack sequence. The aquarium agreed.
The octopus in the documentary weighed about 40 to 50 pounds.
There were several dogfish in the tank, all about 3 to 4 feet long and maybe not in prime condition. The filmmaker says they already were in the tank when he arrived.
The film clip doesn't show that deGruy and two others from his film crew were in the tank in diving suits. Two of the divers herded the dogfish away from the corners, and toward the octopus.
"I suppose you could say 'herding,' " says deGruy. "It was more like giving the sharks less options."
The clip was edited into a sequence of about 2 minutes and 45 seconds. The actual event took much longer.
The narrator in the sequence implies at the start that the octopus was going to become something's lunch.
"When the keepers there decided to move one into a larger tank with sharks and other big fish, they assumed the octopus' strength and camouflage would keep it safe. As it turned out, they were tragically mistaken."
The octopus enveloped one of the dogfish sharks in its arms, pulled it toward its beak, and took a chunk out.
"Kind of gives new meaning to 'top predator,' " concluded the narrator.
There is a long history of wildlife documentaries sometimes tinkering with reality.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., in its "The Fifth Estate" investigative series, did a show on faked documentaries.
Among fakeries it listed were the 1922 production of "Nanook of the North," which "came under intense criticism for falsifying the life of the star of the film as well as hunting scenes."
In the 2002 "Winged Migration," said the show, a bird migration actually showed the birds following their trainers. In the 2007's "Man vs. Wild," a former paratrooper supposed to be surviving in the wild actually stayed in hotels and motels.
By those standards, the Seattle Aquarium footage isn't particularly egregious.
Octopuses do eat sharks.
But sometimes even a predator needs a little help.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or email@example.com
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