An excerpt from Terry Cummins’ account
Lord Howe Island is a preferred destination for divers with its highly diverse marine environments. Lord Howe Island was first sighted in 1788 and is more a series of closely clustered small islands including the Admiralty Islands and Ball Pyramid. The main island is only 11 km long and 2 kmwide rising out in the Tasman Sea 600 kilometres east of the Australian mainland off Port Macquarie.
Life below the surface life is highly diverse with the northern and southern currents converging, so divers witness the profusion of both temperate and tropical marine life. There has been over 500 species of fish identified locally with several species endemic to the region including the double header wrasse, Lord Howe Island coral fish, McCullochs anemone fish and the rarely sighted Ballina angelfish.
The Lord Howe Island Group was World Heritage listed in 1982 in recognition of its outstanding natural beauty
and its exceptional biodiversity. Two thirds of the island is a Permanent Park Preserve and the surrounding waters were declared a Marine Park in 1998. The coral barrier reef, at 31° S, is the most southerly in the world.
We took a day’s diving in April 2011; on our second dive of the day, we were at a site much frequented by divers – Landslide just off Malabar. Here a vertical cliff face rises 200 meters out of the surrounding reef on the southern end of the main island. Landslide is a great dive consisting of three coral finger reefs running parallel to the coast at about 12 to 18 meters with abundant marine life, caverns and swim-throughs.
We had just finished a sweep through the swim-throughs, taken a look at a beautiful Queen Angel and marvelled at the abundance and variety of morays when a family of brightly coloured nudibranchs clustered together on the edge of the second
finger reef grabbed our attention.
The pure white sand that reached out to the third finger reef helped magnify the great visibility and looking up we noticed what seemed to be a blanket drifting just below the surface 16 meters above our heads. After our initial surprise the clear water quickly revealed that this blanket indeed had eyes, a body and was gracefully swimming down to greet us.
As it approached, appearing not at all to be shy, we were in awe of its size -approximating 3 meters (an accurate estimate as it was much longer than the out-stretched divers now at its side). We all stared giving each other signals which generally translated underwater to: “what the hell is this”? Certainly in my 45 plus years of diving and many hours underwater on
Lord Howe I had not seen anything like it before, ever !
Very close examination, and I must admit a gentle touch of the blanket, revealed that it was a cephalopod of some type – maybe a squid, but no, more likely an octopus with a 2 1/2 meter blanket billowing from its head.
We swam with this rare giant for about 10 to 15 minutes and during that entire time we felt that it was observing and enjoying our company us as much as we were enjoying it. Even when we got down to 50 bar of air and finally had to return to the boat, it turned with us as if to say; “farewell”. A truly magic moment !
On reaching the surface we were all smiles, extremely exuberant and immediately continued our: “what the hell
was that” conversation even before climbing into the boat. We were greeted and helped on board by trainee Divemaster Chris Tafili-Reid who very excitedly related that “the thing” had circled the dive boat on the surface for at least 10 minutes whilst we were on other parts of our exciting dive.
Returning to shore our dive team concluded that what we had seen was indeed a Tremoctopus – a genus of pelagic cephalopods containing four species that occupy surface to mid-waters in subtropical and tropical oceans. Of course Lord Howe has exactly
Descriptively they are commonly known as; “Blanket Octopus”, in reference to the long transparent webs that connect the dorsal and dorsolateral arms of the adult females. We now know that full extension of the blanket only takes place when the octopus wants to look bigger and ward off predators.
The Blanket Octopus is rarely seen and only then by a handful of divers across the world. It is listed on “Its Nature” as one of the 10 most bizarre animals in the world. To date our sighting was the first recorded on Lord Howe Island according to the local Marine Park staff.
Unfortunately, as often happens with rare sightings, we were unable to photograph our encounter with this magnificent giant of the ocean.