Professor David Scheel’s internationally recognized octopus research took him to Cairns, Australia, this summer where he participated in a conference and joined a colleague for a bit of recreational diving at Manly, just outside Sydney. David sends this post card:
At nearly 5 million people, Sydney is Australia’s biggest and most densely populated city. Our dive site was along a pier at a park in Chowder Bay, part of Sydney Harbor.
Maybe you’re already imagining iconic wildlife – marsupials like koalas, kangaroos and wombats. At Chowder Bay, my dive buddy and Australia and New York-based research collaborator Peter Godfrey-Smith had some exciting encounters with other animals.
A flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos uses the Chowder Bay park. If you’ve seen North American ravens that winter in Anchorage, then you have an idea of the size of these cockatoos; they’re big white parrots with bright yellow crests. Typically they can be seen at a distance in Australia and then only very high up among towering eucalyptus.
But the day Peter and I went exploring, a dozen or more cockatoos dropped down to forage in the grass.
When Peter wandered over with a breakfast sandwich – he likes them with tomato – one of the bolder cockatoos approached and helped himself. Peter was a good sport while this very large bird with very strong claws and very powerful beak flew up to his shoulder for a bit of tucker.
After (what was left of) breakfast, Peter and I put on our gear for a look at underwater wildlife. APU has lots of recreational and scientific divers, so you’ll understand when I say that our dive was both spectacular and ordinary. We were diving amid ordinary debris that collects under any urban pier: bottles, old tires, bits of this and that.
Spectacular because we encountered six octopus, many sponges, a number of cuttlefish and one seahorse, among many others creatures.
Even octopuses that at first seemed gloomy and shy were readily lured out if I wiggled my fingers a few inches from their lairs.
Encountering octopuses near a busy pier makes me wonder what they get up to when I’m not around. It’s a story I’d love to learn.
In the meantime, my research colleagues and I had great success placing small cameras at our study site and watching. Take a look!