A 1972 Robalo sportfishing boat pulls up to an oil platform off the coast of Corpus Christi, TX.
As the waves rise and fall around this giant manmade structure, Capt. Bill Sheka lowers a big hunk of cut bait seeking out snapper, grouper and other sport fish common to the area.
Suddenly he feels tension on the line so he sets the hook.
There is something on the other end but it is not moving.
“There were some deck hands on the rail of the rig and they were watching me. When I got it up it turned out to be a gallon glass mayonnaise jar, obviously pitched overboard by the rig’s cook,” Sheka said.
The men on the rig laughed at the strange catch and fired off some snide remarks.
“Got some bred for that mayonnaise?”
“Nice catch bud!”
But the jar was not empty.
“Inside was an octopus that took my bait and scurried back to his ‘home”in the jar,” Sheka said.
“I took my small wooden billy club and hit the jar breaking it to reveal the wiggling, twisting octopus. Now the crew was silent and I then asked them if they knew any octopus recipes,” Sheka said.
He had a good laugh at his naysayers before releasing the creature alive and well.
Octopus in the Gulf?
The Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) is the the most observed and studied habitat in the Gulf and according to FGBNMS research coordinator Emma Hickerson there are at least four octopus species there.
These include the Caribbean two-spotted octopus, common octopus, white-spotted octopus and mimic octopus.
“I filmed a Caribbean two-spotted octopus quite a few years ago out and about scooting around the reef during the day, but otherwise typically they are tucked away in the reef. You can sometimes find their “middens” which are piles of shells from their meals. One particular octopus I filmed was big enough to be feasting on large queen conch and slipper lobster at Stetson Bank,” she said.
Kristi Oden encountered caught one while diving off of an oil platform off the Gulf Coast.
“It was a feisty thing,” she said.
“It kept grabbing my dive knife and pulling on it. I got it into my dive bag and took it back up to the boat because I wanted to look at it. It was really neat. When I got it out of the bag and it changed colors to match the floor of the boat. I looked at it for a little while and then put him back in the water.”
Most encounters with octopus off the Texas coast are around oil rigs and at the FGBNMS but some divers reporting seeing them at the jetties in Port O’Connor, Aransas Pass and Port Mansfield.
Finding octopus along the beach jetties and even in the bays is a fairly common occurrence on the Gulf Coast of Florida but in the western Gulf they remain mysterious.
The common octopus can grow to impressive sizes with specimens as large as 4.3 feet and weighing upwards of 20 pounds. And although it is difficult to measure the “intelligence” of animals, octopus are without questions brainiacs of the marine world.
Octopus not only have the largest brains of any invertebrate but they also have an impressive number of neurons which are the measuring stick science uses for thinking potential.
The common octopus has around 130 million. A human has more than 100 billion but that numbers not bad for something that makes its living in the cracks and crevices of reefs, rigs, jetties and yes, even mayonnaise jars.
The more we understand about the Gulf of Mexico, the more we can appreciate it.
And I can’t imagine someone not being able to appreciate the uniqueness of the octopus and the fact Gulf coastal waters are home to these amazing creatures.
Chester Moore, Jr.