Sucker Punch

Small, smart, and mysterious, with a mean right hook. If you couldn’t guess, I’m talking about the bullies of the ocean: octopi! No doubt you’ve all heard the stories about octopi learning to open jars, or solve mazes, or play chess. But don’t be fooled by their intelligence, because these eight armed aggressors regularly punch fish right in the face. I guess sometimes the nerds do bully the jocks. This phenomenon has been observed several times over the years, but it went under special consideration after a researcher named Eduardo Sampaio watched an octopus angrily strike a passing fish during one of his diving trips. Understandably, Mr. Sampaio laughed his head off, but what he couldn’t see were the tears of that innocent sea creature. What could the fish have done to deserve such a vicious beating? Mr. Sampaio and his team set out to answer that question.

The team began by sending divers out to various parts of the Red Sea with special camera equipment that could record octopus hostility levels. After three months of diving expeditions, Mr. Sampaio and his team had enough information to determine the answer. You see, it all starts with a hunting collaboration between ocean predators. A group of fish make up the lookout team, eyeing the seafloor in search of prey, the octopus is the safecracker, digging through the rocks to nab any small creatures who have burrowed into the sand, and the eels are the hitmen who go in for the kill. At the end of the job, the predators divide up the take and go their separate ways. Who ever said there wasn’t honor among thieves? Well apparently, the job isn’t always that simple. Sometimes, the fish get a little greedy and they start eyeing the octopus’s cut. When the fish get a little too close for comfort, the octopus makes them an offer they can’t refuse: get out of my way or get punched in the face. So you see, octopi aren’t bullies, they are just establishing their dominance. Or are they…

During their time researching octopi, Mr. Sampaio’s team took note of the predator collaboration situation, but they also saw a different pattern emerging. Sometimes there was a “clear need for aggression” but sometimes there wasn’t. In several cases, the team noticed that the octopi would smack fish who were simply passing by. Perhaps the octopi had presumed that the fish were trying to steal their catch, or maybe they were just blowing off a little steam because the Lions had lost again. In any case, a group of octopi have been known to smack over 30 innocent creatures a year, and that number is only growing. No wonder fish meat has been so tender! And although that may be a good thing for us humans, it doesn’t make octopi any better. They are still the bloodthirsty bullies of the beach. So next time you’re deep sea diving off the coast of Egypt make sure to watch out, or you may end up with a black eye courtesy of the octopi.



I’m Kumar. Do I have to say more? If I do, then just note that I am an anchor and contributor to the City Voice.