A marine biologist had a "once in a lifetime" encounter with the rare and stunning blanket octopus off the coast of Australia this month.
Jacinta Shackleton, a videographer and photographer, has been capturing wildlife in Great Barrier Reef for the past three years as a content creator for Queensland's Tourism and Events. On Jan. 6, Shackleton posted on Instagram that she had spotted the elusive octopus while snorkeling near Lady Elliot Island.
"When I first saw it, I thought it could have been a juvenile fish with long fins, but as it came closer, I realized it was a female blanket octopus and I had this overwhelming sense of joy and excitement," Shackleton told The Guardian. "I kept yelling through my snorkel, 'It’s a blanket octopus!' I was so excited I was finding it difficult to hold my breath to dive down and video it."
Found living around coral reefs in subtropical and tropical oceans, the blanket octopus gets its name from its cape-like webs enclosing its tentacles, often used to intimidate predators. They are immune to jellyfish stings and will use ripped-off jellyfish tentacles to hunt for prey like small fishes.
"The blankets can be folded under the octopus’ arms to make for a faster getaway, if needed. This cape can be detached when the octopus is in distress, to distract or cling to a predator," says the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
The foundation said it's deadly for the species to mate because the male "expends all its resources" while breaking off a third arm and dying soon after. Females will carry more than 100,000 eggs until they hatch. The female then usually dies.
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The creature Shackleton saw is female, and the species has the "largest gender size discrepancy in the animal kingdom," according to the foundation. Females grow to more than 6 feet long, while males measure 2.4 centimeters, about the size as a thumbtack. Females weigh 40,000 times more than males.
A male blanket octopus hadn't been observed until 2002, according to the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. Shackleton told The Guardian she believes the creature has been spotted only three times before in the area.
"Seeing one in real life is indescribable, I was so captivated by its movements, it was as if it was dancing through the water with a flowing cape. The vibrant colors are just so incredible, you can’t take your eyes off it," Shackleton told the outlet. "I’ve truly never seen anything like it before and don’t think I ever will again in my life."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rare blanket octopus spotted in 'once-in-a-lifetime' encounter