Blue Rings

The Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia

A blue-ringed octopus
Blue Rings

I have always wanted to see a blue-ringed octopus. I still remember the first time I heard of this little creature; it was a briefing one of the first times I dove in the western Pacific (now decades ago): “You might see a blue-ringed octopus. They’re really small. If you do see one, leave it alone. They are very poisonous; if it bites you, you will die before we can get you help.” Since then, of course, I have read more and seen pictures. People do die from them: Their bite contains a powerful neurotoxin that paralyzes the victim, resulting in asphyxiation as the lungs stop working. But the thing is very small; they say its beak will not penetrate most wetsuits. In the pictures, they are always yellow, with bright blue rings. Always seemed to me hard to miss. I had never seen one before Lembeh.

You can imagine my consternation on this dive when the guide paused by a dark-colored, nondescript, maybe baseball-sized rock in the middle of a featureless sandy bottom and quickly scribbled on his slate: “blue ring octopus.” I looked around carefully. (It didn’t take long — there was only featureless sand and that little rock.) I gestured: “Where?”

My guide extended his bare hand and with one finger gently tapped on a small protuberance on the rock below us. The thing was no bigger than my thumb. Under his finger, it flexed like a little rubber toy. Then it turned brilliant yellow with blue rings, curled up its tiny tentacles, let go of the rock, and let the gentle current carry it away.

With two photographers in the group, getting away wasn’t so easy. We followed; we clicked; we flashed. The little octopus did not ink and did not swim quickly: It just drifted along the sandy bottom with the gentle current, occasionally grabbing onto a stone and trying again to blend in each time. When we were not fooled, the little octopus would again turn yellow, let go, and continue to drift with the current. Finally, it lost patience: With color gradually fading from yellow back to a sandy tan to match the bottom, the little octopus streamlined itself and jetted away.

A blue-ringed octopus
Blue Rings, Departing

(Top photo [“Blue Rings”]: Canon G11 in Ikelite housing with two Ikelite DS-125 strobes and TTL metering; integrated lens at 10.8mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/60 sec.)

(Bottom [“Blue Rings, Departing”]: Same camera, strobes, and settings.)

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Images and text copyright © Rick Collier and thePhotoTourist. All rights reserved.

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