One of the ocean’s rarest inhabitants has been captured ‘dancing’ in the water above the Great Barrier Reef in a dazzling display of natural beauty.
The colourful blanket octopus has only ever been seen a handful of times in the wild, but it was spotted this week by reef guide and marine biologist Jacinta Shackleton.
Swimming off the coast of Lady Elliot Island in Australia, she captured amazing footage of the creature that usually stays out in the open ocean.
‘When I first saw it, I thought it could have been a juvenile fish with long fins, but as it came closer, I realised it was a female blanket octopus and I had this overwhelming sense of joy and excitement,’ she told Guardian Australia.
Jacinta said she believes there have only ever been three previous sightings of a blanket octopus in the area before hers.
In fact, the first ever sighting of a live male blanket octopus was only made 21 years ago just north of the Great Barrier Reef.
‘I kept yelling through my snorkel, ‘it’s a blanket octopus!’ I was so excited I was finding it difficult to hold my breath to dive down and video it,’ Jacinta said.
She posted the images to her Instagram profile where they quickly picked up thousands of likes.
A unique factor of blanket octopuses is the difference in size between the sexes.
While females can grow up to two metres in length, males only make it to 2.4cm.
Males also don’t develop the colourful, iridescent ‘blanket’ that gives the creature its name and makes it such an arresting sight in the blue water.
Females are also able to shed the blanket as a way to elude predators.
Shackleton, meanwhile, says this underwater encounter ranks as one of her all-time highlights.
‘Seeing one in real life is indescribable, I was so captivated by its movements, it was as if it was dancing through the water with a flowing cape. The vibrant colours are just so incredible, you can’t take your eyes off it,’ she told the Guardian.
‘I’ve truly never seen anything like it before and don’t think I ever will again in my life.’
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