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  • I first became fascinated with octopus at an early age.

  • I grew up in Mobile, Alabama --

  • somebody's got to be from Mobile, right? --

  • and Mobile sits at the confluence of five rivers,

  • forming this beautiful delta.

  • And the delta has alligators crawling

  • in and out of rivers filled with fish

  • and cypress trees dripping with snakes,

  • birds of every flavor.

  • It's an absolute magical wonderland to live in --

  • if you're a kid interested in animals, to grow up in.

  • And this delta water flows to Mobile Bay, and finally into the Gulf of Mexico.

  • And I remember my first real contact with octopus

  • was probably at age five or six.

  • I was in the gulf, and I was swimming around and saw a little octopus on the bottom.

  • And I reached down and picked him up, and immediately

  • became fascinated and impressed by its speed and its strength and agility.

  • It was prying my fingers apart and moving to the back of my hand.

  • It was all I could do to hold onto this amazing creature.

  • Then it sort of calmed down in the palms of my hands

  • and started flashing colors,

  • just pulsing all of these colors.

  • And as I looked at it, it kind of tucked its arms under it,

  • raised into a spherical shape

  • and turned chocolate brown with two white stripes.

  • I'm going, "My gosh!" I had never seen anything like this in my life!

  • So I marveled for a moment, and then decided it was time to release him,

  • so I put him down.

  • The octopus left my hands and then did the damnedest thing:

  • It landed on the bottom in the rubble

  • and -- fwoosh! -- vanished

  • right before my eyes.

  • And I knew, right then, at age six,

  • that is an animal that I want to learn more about. So I did.

  • And I went off to college and got a degree in marine zoology,

  • and then moved to Hawaii and entered graduate school

  • at the University of Hawaii.

  • And while a student at Hawaii, I worked at the Waikiki Aquarium.

  • And the aquarium had a lot of big fish tanks

  • but not a lot of invertebrate displays,

  • and being the spineless guy, I thought, well

  • I'll just go out in the field and collect these wonderful animals

  • I had been learning about as a student

  • and bring them in, and I built these elaborate sets and put them on display.

  • Now, the fish in the tanks were gorgeous to look at,

  • but they didn't really interact with people.

  • But the octopus did.

  • If you walked up to an octopus tank,

  • especially early in the morning before anyone arrived,

  • the octopus would rise up and look at you

  • and you're thinking, "Is that guy really looking at me? He is looking at me!"

  • And you walk up to the front of the tank. Then you realize

  • that these animals all have different personalities:

  • Some of them would hold their ground,

  • others would slink into the back of the tank and disappear in the rocks,

  • and one in particular, this amazing animal ...

  • I went up to the front of the tank, and he's just staring at me,

  • and he had little horns come up above his eyes.

  • So I went right up to the front of the tank --

  • I was three or four inches from the front glass --

  • and the octopus was sitting on a perch, a little rock,

  • and he came off the rock and he also came down right to the front of the glass.

  • So I was staring at this animal about six or seven inches away,

  • and at that time I could actually focus that close;

  • now as I look at my fuzzy fingers I realize those days are long gone.

  • Anyway, there we were, staring at each other,

  • and he reaches down and grabs an armful of gravel

  • and releases it in the jet of water entering the tank

  • from the filtration system,

  • and -- chk chk chk chk chk! -- this gravel hits the front of the glass and falls down.

  • He reaches up, takes another armful of gravel, releases it --

  • chk chk chk chk chk! -- same thing.

  • Then he lifts another arm and I lift an arm.

  • Then he lifts another arm and I lift another arm.

  • And then I realize the octopus won the arms race,

  • because I was out and he had six left. (Laughter)

  • But the only way I can describe what I was seeing that day

  • was that this octopus was playing,

  • which is a pretty sophisticated behavior for a mere invertebrate.

  • So, about three years into my degree,

  • a funny thing happened on the way to the office,

  • which actually changed the course of my life.

  • A man came into the aquarium. It's a long story, but essentially

  • he sent me and a couple of friends of mine to the South Pacific

  • to collect animals for him,

  • and as we left, he gave us two 16-millimeter movie cameras.

  • He said, "Make a movie about this expedition."

  • "OK, a couple of biologists making a movie --

  • this'll be interesting,"

  • and off we went. And we did, we made a movie,

  • which had to be the worst movie ever made

  • in the history of movie making,

  • but it was a blast. I had so much fun.

  • And I remember that proverbial light going off in my head,

  • thinking, "Wait a minute.

  • Maybe I can do this all the time.

  • Yeah, I'll be a filmmaker."

  • So I literally came back from that job,

  • quit school, hung my filmmaking shingle

  • and just never told anyone that I didn't know what I was doing.

  • It's been a good ride.

  • And what I learned in school though was really beneficial.

  • If you're a wildlife filmmaker

  • and you're going out into the field to film animals,

  • especially behavior,

  • it helps to have a fundamental background

  • on who these animals are,

  • how they work and, you know, a bit about their behaviors.

  • But where I really learned about octopus

  • was in the field, as a filmmaker

  • making films with them,

  • where you're allowed to spend large periods of time

  • with the animals, seeing octopus being octopus

  • in their ocean homes.

  • I remember I took a trip to Australia,

  • went to an island called One Tree Island.

  • And apparently, evolution had occurred

  • at a pretty rapid rate on One Tree,

  • between the time they named it and the time I arrived,

  • because I'm sure there were at least three trees

  • on that island when we were there.

  • Anyway, one tree is situated right next to

  • a beautiful coral reef.

  • In fact, there's a surge channel

  • where the tide is moving back and forth, twice a day, pretty rapidly.

  • And there's a beautiful reef,

  • very complex reef, with lots of animals,

  • including a lot of octopus.

  • And not uniquely

  • but certainly, the octopus in Australia

  • are masters at camouflage.

  • As a matter of fact,

  • there's one right there.

  • So our first challenge was to find these things,

  • and that was a challenge, indeed.

  • But the idea is, we were there for a month

  • and I wanted to acclimate the animals to us

  • so that we could see behaviors without disturbing them.

  • So the first week was pretty much spent

  • just getting as close as we could,

  • every day a little closer, a little closer, a little closer.

  • And you knew what the limit was: they would start getting twitchy

  • and you'd back up, come back in a few hours.

  • And after the first week, they ignored us.

  • It was like, "I don't know what that thing is, but he's no threat to me."

  • So they went on about their business

  • and from a foot away, we're watching mating

  • and courting and fighting

  • and it is just an unbelievable experience.

  • And one of the most fantastic displays

  • that I remember, or at least visually,

  • was a foraging behavior.

  • And they had a lot of different techniques

  • that they would use for foraging,

  • but this particular one used vision.

  • And they would see a coral head,

  • maybe 10 feet away,

  • and start moving over toward that coral head.

  • And I don't know whether they actually saw crab in it, or imagined that one might be,

  • but whatever the case, they would leap off the bottom

  • and go through the water and land right on top of this coral head,

  • and then the web between the arms

  • would completely engulf the coral head,

  • and they would fish out, swim for crabs.

  • And as soon as the crabs touched the arm, it was lights out.

  • And I always wondered what happened under that web.

  • So we created a way to find out, (Laughter)

  • and I got my first look at that famous beak in action.

  • It was fantastic.

  • If you're going to make a lot of films about a particular group of animals,

  • you might as well pick one that's fairly common.

  • And octopus are, they live in all the oceans.

  • They also live deep.

  • And I can't say octopus are responsible

  • for my really strong interest

  • in getting in subs and going deep,

  • but whatever the case, I like that.

  • It's like nothing you've ever done.

  • If you ever really want to get away from it all

  • and see something that you have never seen,

  • and have an excellent chance of seeing something

  • no one has ever seen, get in a sub.

  • You climb in, seal the hatch, turn on a little oxygen,

  • turn on the scrubber,

  • which removes the CO2 in the air you breathe, and they chuck you overboard.

  • Down you go. There's no connection to the surface

  • apart from a pretty funky radio.

  • And as you go down, the washing machine

  • at the surface calms down.

  • And it gets quiet.

  • And it starts getting really nice.

  • And as you go deeper, that lovely, blue water you were launched in

  • gives way to darker and darker blue.

  • And finally, it's a rich lavender,

  • and after a couple of thousand feet, it's ink black.

  • And now you've entered the realm

  • of the mid-water community.

  • You could give an entire talk

  • about the creatures that live in the mid-water.

  • Suffice to say though, as far as I'm concerned,

  • without question, the most bizarre designs

  • and outrageous behaviors

  • are in the animals that live in the mid-water community.

  • But we're just going to zip right past this area,

  • this area that includes about 95 percent

  • of the living space on our planet

  • and go to the mid-ocean ridge, which I think is even more extraordinary.

  • The mid-ocean ridge is a huge mountain range,

  • 40,000 miles long, snaking around the entire globe.

  • And they're big mountains, thousands of feet tall,

  • some of which are tens of thousands of feet

  • and bust through the surface,

  • creating islands like Hawaii.

  • And the top of this mountain range

  • is splitting apart, creating a rift valley.

  • And when you dive into that rift valley, that's where the action is

  • because literally thousands of active volcanoes

  • are going off at any point in time

  • all along this 40,000 mile range.

  • And as these tectonic plates are spreading apart,

  • magma, lava is coming up and filling those gaps,

  • and you're looking land -- new land --

  • being created right before your eyes.

  • And over the tops of them is 3,000 to 4,000 meters of water

  • creating enormous pressure,

  • forcing water down through the cracks toward the center of the earth,

  • until it hits a magma chamber

  • where it becomes superheated

  • and supersaturated with minerals,

  • reverses its flow and starts shooting back to the surface

  • and is ejected out of the earth like a geyser at Yellowstone.

  • In fact, this whole area

  • is like a Yellowstone National Park with all of the trimmings.

  • And this vent fluid is about 600 or 700 degrees F.

  • The surrounding water is just a couple of degrees above freezing.

  • So it immediately cools,

  • and it can no longer hold in suspension

  • all of the material that it's dissolved,

  • and it precipitates out, forming black smoke.

  • And it forms these towers, these chimneys

  • that are 10, 20, 30 feet tall.

  • And all along the sides of these chimneys

  • is shimmering with heat and loaded with life.

  • You've got black smokers going all over the place

  • and chimneys that have tube worms

  • that might be eight to 10 feet long.

  • And out of the tops of these tube worms

  • are these beautiful red plumes.

  • And living amongst the tangle of tube worms

  • is an entire community of animals:

  • shrimp, fish, lobsters, crab,

  • clams and swarms of arthropods