Thursday, 4 October 2012

These incredible pictures show how a cheeky octopus foiled the efforts of marine researchers to investigate the feeding habits of sea life.
The researchers dropped a bait cage into the waters of False Bay, Cape Town, as part of a survey of creatures living off the coast of South Africa.
But they didn't count on this thieving invertebrate sneaking along and not only stealing the food, but taking away the entire cage itself.
Remarkable video footage of the heist shows the widely studied intelligence of octopuses, which is such that in British animal testing laws they are regarded as 'honorary vertebrates' and afforded rights not generally extended related species. 
It shows schools of fish swimming around the cage, attracted by the bait it is ejecting into the surrounding waters. All seems fairly mundane, until the octopus floats along and wraps its tentacles around the cylinder.
The tenacious animal envelops the contraption entirely, tugging on the chain connecting the cylinder to the researchers' boat above and bracing itself against the sea floor for leverage.
It wrestles with the box for some time, no doubt scoffing any food it is ejecting while thwarting the hapless fish who hope to pick up any scraps left behind.
Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the octopus swims off, with the bait box securely in its grip - leaving a lonely chain anchored to the sea floor and the marine biologists facing a bill for new equipment.
The incredible scene was witnessed by marine biologists funded by the Save Our Seas foundation who deployed their Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) system in False Bay to investigate the decline of sea life in the area.
Lauren de Vos, a research assistant at the University of Cape Town’s Marine Research Institute, explained on the Save Our Seas blog how the aim of the study is to develop an understanding of the conservation status of fish in the area, which has been heavily exploited by man for nearly two centuries.
'By attracting fish into the field of view of a remotely-controlled camera, the technique records diversity, abundance and behaviour of species,' she said.
'As a non-extractive technique, it offers a low environmental impact way of understanding changes in fish numbers and diversity over time.'
After two centuries of exploitation by fishermen, many species in South African waters are now in serious decline, Ms de Vos said. 
However monitoring of the conservation situation of much of the sea life has been inadequate as a result of the cost and practicality of getting down to the sea floor.
BRUV surveys were first developed in Australia. They attract fish into the field of view of a remotely controlled camera, allowing researchers to record the diversity, abundance and behaviour of species.
Ms de Vos added: 'With a long history of fishing activity, False Bay presents an important and interesting site for the development of a BRUV monitoring system that will maximise the amount of data collected on any given day, and lower the costs of doing so to become a realistic option for fishery and MPA managers’ budgets.'


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