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Spree Killers of the Deep

September 6, 2009 at 12:44 pm

A while back, I came across this piece in New Scientist about dolphin killing sprees.  (There's actual video of the dolphins killing a harbor porpoise here, but be warned that some folks might find it slightly grim.  On the video, you can hear the (human) witnesses screaming.)

It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite documentaries, an episode of Nature called The Octopus Show.

I used to have this episode on videotape (yes, I'm old school, and yes, I've heard of TiVo, thanks), but I showed it to so many people that it eventually snapped and gummed up my VCR.  But, thanks to the miracle of the internet, I can share my favorite outtakes with you.

Which brings me back to, um, murder.

A few years back, the Seattle Aquarium put together a large exhibit containing, among many other things, specimens of spiny dogfish shark and giant pacific octopus.  They'd never tried this, and it was a little risky, because the spiny dogfish is known to eat the occasional octopus.  But they figured that their octopus would probably be okay, because octopodes are Masters Of Disguise.  (In addition to changing their coloration to match their surroundings in real time, some cephalopods can even change the texture of their skin to mimic rocks, coral, or whatever they're hiding behind.  They're incredibly good at hiding, as this video shows.  It's a few minutes long, but very worthwhile, especiallly if you watch it through to the end.) 

So they put it all together... only to find their sharks turning up dead in the morning.  And it was a vexing problem.  If I remember the full episode correctly (though it's been a few years, so I might not), I think they even performed a necropsy on one of the dead sharks, trying to figure out what happened.  No dice.  They completely cleaned the tank to remove any possibility of microbial or fungal problems.  No dice.  So finally one of the researchers stayed up all night with a camera.

And saw this.  (There's slightly better video (but at the price of corny narration) here.)

It's not clear to me if the giant pacific octopus actually ate the sharks after killing them, but I kind of doubt it, because if it had been eating them surely there would have been telltale signs of predation on the dead sharks that would have tipped off the researchers right away.

I'm probably mis-remembering the details to make them more sensational for myself.  But either way, I like to imagine that the octopus killed those sharks just because it could.

And that's not the only time somebody has had to sleep on the laboratory floor just to figure out what the hell the octopodes have been getting up to in the middle of the night.  Not even close.  For instance, there's Otto the Octopus, who resides at an aquarium Germany.  Apparently he got tired of having a light shone on him 24/7.  So what did he do?  Oh, he broke that sucker.  Broke it good.  With malice aforesight.  You know, when he wasn't busy trying to break out of his tank with a rock.

Another gem from The Octopus Show is video of an octopus slithering out of its own tank, pulling itself across a table, and then slithering into another tank containing tasty food.  I can't find video of that one, but it sounds like it's a common tale among people who work with cephalopods.  They're freaky smart.

Which isn't to say the bottlenose dolphin is a slouch, because it clearly isn't.  But in a battle of wits, I'm putting my money on the octopus.

(What about those cold-blooded dolphins?  I think that they're taking the rap for something else.  I think this is to blame.  But not to worry, because those billionaires in their robotic-dolphin-submarine-jetskis will eventually have their hands full battling robot sharks.   (That one's for you, Sam.))

And finally, any discussion of sharks and cephalopods wouldn't be complete without mentioning this.


S.C. Butler September 7, 2009 at 12:13 pm
Figures we'd both post about the same thing on the same day. Despite what happens in the above mentioned marvelous movie, the octopus will take out the shark every time (even if they're both gigantic).
Ian September 7, 2009 at 12:39 pm
think alike. (Did you check out the octopus camouflage video up above? It's almost as good as the MegaShark eating a 747 out of the sky, except it's even truthier.)
S.C. Butler September 7, 2009 at 6:30 pm
That's the only link I couldn't open. I've decided my mad scinetist is going to out-evil your mad scientist easily, because my mad scientist is going to develop octobots, which will crush your robot sharks easily.
Ian September 7, 2009 at 7:32 pm
...that's the best video of the lot. It requires Quicktime, I believe. Imagine the most amazing thing you've ever seen. Times a million. That's what you missed in that video. Didn't Stan Lee already do octobots?
Richard September 8, 2009 at 8:24 am
I can't believe Debbie Gibson stars in Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. Makes sense, though. I can picture the shark singing the movie theme, "Shake your love/I just can't shake/Your love."
Ian September 8, 2009 at 9:44 am
Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet still believe. I get the impression (based on that trailer and no other information) that she prefers to go by "Deborah" Gibson now.
S.C. Butler September 8, 2009 at 2:20 pm
Deborah (Debbie) Gibson was just one more aspect of how absolutely marvelous this movie was. All this, and Lorenzo Lamas, too. Ian - Stan's octobots couldn't breathe underwater.
Ian September 8, 2009 at 3:07 pm
I don't see how that movie can't be 100% awesome, given the presence of BOTH Ms. Gibson and Mr. Lorenzo "Renegade" Lamas. Stan's octobots can't breathe underwater? Well, heck, then I'd say you're on the fast track to World Domination. A robot cephalopod would pretty much destroy any other kind of robot.
Ty September 8, 2009 at 9:39 pm
It's only because you can't light fires underwater that we haven't been wiped out by the octopus hordes and their octoguns.
Ian September 8, 2009 at 9:47 pm
My worry is that they already have all sorts of amazing technology down there that ONLY works deep in the ocean. How would we know?!? We won't. Until it's too late.
S.C. Butler September 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm
This was just the point the writers of The Simpsons were trying to make when they wrote that poignant episode about Dolphins taking over Springfield.
Ian September 9, 2009 at 12:18 pm
That must be one of the episodes from the years after I stopped watching The Simpsons. As much as I loved that show back in the day, I found it stopped being worth a half hour of my time each week around 10, 12 years ago. You might say -- wait for it -- it jumped the shark.
Ty September 9, 2009 at 12:36 pm
Sorry, Ian, the dolphin episode was actually quite excellent. No shark jumping. But I propose a TV show about people who jump sharks for a living, then when the show starts to go downhill, we have them jump an octopus.
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