The octopus is highly intelligent and extremely clever, but researchers in South Africa were still surprised to witness, on videotape, one of the mollusks stealing a bait canister that had been secured to a chain in front of an underwater camera.
The octopus managed this incredible feat by untying three cable ties, while fighting off a pajama catshark. (The octopus appears at the 1:00 mark of the video posted below, and the shark soon afterward.)
The footage is from earlier this season but science writers only recently began to reveal the nature of the University of Cape Town research, which involves a study of the pea-green waters of False Bay, and the type of critters that exist in a coastal region thought to be over-exploited.
Of the great octopus caper, research assistant Lauren de Vos told the Cape Times: “We were flummoxed by how clever they are, smart enough to un-clip the bait canister which is not easy, and we’ve had several pieces of equipment stolen. We’ve got it all on film.”
The cameras, placed in front of baited canisters, run continuously for an hour at a time and allow scientists to document species and behaviors. The project has been ongoing for about three years.
Several types of sharks, including a great white, are among the predator species to have been tallied, though the larger sharks do not appear in the accompanying video.
The project is designed, De Vos said, “to get an understanding of the conservation status of these species.”
What researchers did not count on was having to deal with thieving octopi.