spotted jellyfish

Between the last post and this one, I’ve graduated with my Masters, finished a thesis about drones (surprise!), and have traveled to the East Coast to see family. This made me embarrassingly remiss about blogging.

Here’s some recent photos from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Myself, my cousin Laura, and my friend Curran all made the trek down there during my graduation weekend, intent on viewing the anticipated glories of the Tentacles special exhibit for ourselves.

Find the lurking baby cuttlefish.

Find the lurking baby cuttlefish.

I’ve had a slightly weird life-long love affair with tentacled creatures of the deep, starting with a childhood in which I had no teddy bears but a remarkably diverse assortment of plush tentacled sea life instead. I was insistent at an early age that Things With Noses Aren’t As Cute, and would become extremely offended if someone dared portray an octopus with a bullshit faux, circular nose. Mostly, I found them fascinating: as intelligent as cats, able to change color at will, and remarkably effective, sneaky predators.

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My love of cephalopods has persisted into adulthood: I had a giant squid battling a whale on the cake my mom got me for my undergraduate graduation, while my family exchanges clever squid-themed gifts whenever we find ourselves in the same geographic location. Becoming a scuba diver only made me fall more deeply in love: seeing the real thing jetting about the ocean floor, lurking in coral, undulating.

I encountered a cuttlefish in the Philippines last summer — a tiny little job, about the length of my already-small middle finger. It was hovering by a piece of coral and took cranky note of my existence: I had spotted it and begun squealing in glee quietly to myself through a regulator.

Brittle star tentacles.

Brittle star tentacles.

I drew closer and the cuttlefish nonchalantly positioned itself behind the coral, operating under the assumption I wouldn’t be able to see it. This didn’t work, and when I peered at it from the other side, it grew irate, turned black, and blasted a miniscule, delicate spurt of ink into my face.

This is probably the cutest thing that has ever happened to me or will ever happen to me.

Lurking giant octopus.

Lurking giant octopus.

In any case: the Tentacles exhibit was really excellent. A short entry-way with a display of Greek pots with squid on them and popular portrayals of these beasts throughout history, and into the exhibits: giant octopi, bigfin squid, stumpy cuttlefish, chambered nautilus, and many other delightful, odd creatures.

The Aquarium mastered the care and breeding of jellyfish and has used its considerable resources and scientific knowledge to do the same for some rather unusual species of cephalopods: there are critters here you are unlikely to have previously viewed through the smudged glass of some also-ran aquarium.

They're hard to photograph. Had to outsource to Wikipedia.

Flamboyant cuttlefish are hard to photograph. Had to outsource to Wikipedia.

My favorite by far was the flamboyant cuttlefish, a flip-phone sized creature that is colored in orchid-like purples and yellows. In severe contradiction to the floral beauty of its exterior, the flamboyant cuttlefish is the Pug of the ocean: it trundles slowly and with seemingly great exertion to wherever it is going, on two inward turned tentacles. They look unlikely in that adorably awkward way so favored by human onlookers, and as we observed, that pathos-laden lack of grace applies to hunting: they don’t seem to be that hot at it.

As we looked into the aquarium, a clear plastic tube appeared and emitted a few dozen tiny pink shrimp: lunch time. The shrimp found their way to the yellow sand of the bottom and we crowded around in anticipation. But the cuttlefish did not gracefully devour them.

Gorgeous chambered nautilus.

Gorgeous chambered nautilus.

They trundled. They trundled towards the shrimp with staunch, lugubrious intent. A cuttlefish feeds by jerking a tentacle out from its center mass of tentacles towards the prey, and then yanking the hapless victim back into its (hidden) beak – the effect is rather like a frog.

Unfortunately, the flamboyant cuttlefish kept missing. They would jerk out a tentacle, and miss the shrimp by a few centimeters, and the shrimp would fail to notice and jet away. The cuttlefish looked frustrated, and the shrimp looked almost pleased, if it’s possible for a shrimp to be pleased.

moody giant octopus

One shrimp actually hopped onto the back of one of the more hopeless cuttlefish, after evading a particular miserable attempt at tentacle-grabbing. The cuttlefish immediately became alarmed: it shifted from magenta to a deep, blackish purple — angry colors, the species equivalent of yelling “Oh Shit.”

The shrimp hung on, and the cuttlefish tried backing up, propelling itself with little ineffectual squirts of water. The shrimp hung on. Another ferocious backwards puff, and the shrimp finally became dislodged. The cuttlefish reared up, positioning its tentacles in a savage, cobra-like display, rippling with black and purple and white. Surely it would learn. Surely it would submit.

The cuttlefish came closer, and the shrimp hopped on its back again.

cuttlefish couple

More great exhibits awaited: graceful bigfin squid with giant eyes, lugubrious giant squid, steampunk animated displays explaining what it’s *like* to be an octopus. We even got to watch cuttlefish have weirdly rough sex, preceded by an aggressive, ink-filled slugfest between at least a dozen combatants.

You must go see this exhibit. It is more entertaining than anything on television, or at least equivalent to YouTube.

Here’s a gallery of my other photos:



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