Gabon Expedition: Incredible Baby Octopus

Mike Fay’s exploration of Gabon’s untouched wilderness led to 11 percent of the country being named national park land. This inspired Enric Sala to explore and help protect similarly pristine areas of the ocean around the world. Now the two explorers go back to the beginning to explore the murky waters off the coast of this African nation.

The research vessel of the Waitt Institute was anchored over a bottom of 52 meters off the Loango National Park in Gabon, a park known for his surfing hippos, and beach-roaming elephants. But we were probably the first to dive in these waters. We deployed Waitt’s remote operated vehicle (ROV) and drove it across the sandy bottom.

The most exciting thing we found was a large, dead seashell. Steve Firman, our ROV pilot extraordinaire, grabbed the shell with the manipulator arm of the ROV, and brought it on board for identification. We could have never expected what was going to happen.

When we picked up the shell from the ROV’s arm, to our surprise, a small octopus came out of the shell. It was a female that laid her eggs inside the shell. We put shell and octopus in a tank with seawater, and after one minute thousands of octopus larvae started to stream out of the shell. The octopus eggs were hatching! That was the first time we had observed such a magnificent show. The larvae were changing coloration from transparent with dark spots to brown, and swimming like squid – although on a millimeter scale.

We released octopus and larvae immediately after taking some photographs and video. Even on a featureless sandy plain one can find the perseverance of life. A good lesson in exploration: never hesitate to continue exploring, even when it seems you are not going to find anything.

 

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Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.