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How NOT to shoot an octopus

by Benny Sutton

Reproduced from in focus 26 (Feb/Mar. 1988)


I had this great idea! How to get fantastic octopus shots to order!

I had already had my diving holiday for this year when I took a last minute holiday with diving (slightly different!) with my girlfriend, Nikki, We went to one of my favourite places, Cyprus, with the intention of having a relaxing time, teaching Nikki to dive and indulging in a little Underwater Photography with (post Brighton) no pressure to get results.

The octopus shot evolved from seeing them caught commercially on David Attenborough's excellent TV series about the Mediterranean. I was inspired by the idea that a similar technique might enable me to photograph them under controlled conditions underwater.

As any of you who have tried to capture on of these camera shy creatures on film know, the problems are a) finding one and b) getting it to perform when you do. The fishermen seemed to have inadvertently solved both problems. Their method involved deploying clay pots at intervals along a line on the sea bed. Mr Octopus then adopts one as home and is retrieved in the fullness of time with the pot. A small hole in the back of the pot enables a 'prodder' to be inserted and Mr 0 has no option but to vacate.

Anyway, I thought if it was good enough for the BBC then it was good enough for me. When I related the plan, however, to Cherry who runs Cydive, the island's main dive centre, she looked at me sceptically but, ever helpful, organised the pots from the local equivalent of a garden centre.

So, Nikki and I crossed the road to the small harbour opposite the dive centre kitted up and loaded down with flower pots much to the amusement of the watching crowds who shouted helpful comments like, 'Look, it's Bill and Ben!'

The sea bed around Cyprus is littered with Amphorae, oil filled pots, thrown overboard by superstitious mariners in days gone by as a gift to the Gods for safe passage. I joked as we entered the water that we were probably the first people in 2,000 years to have deposited earthenware out there.

We placed them carefully in likely positions, leaving rocks that the octopus could drag in to seal the mouth of the jar, a habit I had observed on previous encounters.

That evening, pleased with our days work, we ate out at our favourite watering hole, the Black Horse Taverna in Paphos, where George, the Cypriot owner (and himself a diver) offered an alternative method. It was more related to snake charming than our plan,

He told us how, as a boy in Limassol, he came across a large Octopus under a pier. Determined to catch it but with no bait he persuaded his best friend to lend him his white underpants which he tantalisingly wafted just out of reach in front of the octopus's lair. Half an hour later patient George was rewarded as the octopus' curiosity got the better of him, he left his hidey hole and was duly nabbed.

Unfortunately for George, he may have caught his supper but he was punished for playing truant from school and for losing his friends underpants!

Well, we checked the pots regularly over the next few days but there was more chance of Oliver Reed staying sober for a chat show than of finding an octopus. I decided to concentrate on subjects that were a bit more readily available as the pots were fast becoming an embarrassment.

The rest of the holiday was spent most enjoyably as a routine established itself, Get up, pick up some bottles from Cydive, drive down the coast and have a dive, do some sunbathing? It's a tough job but someone's got to do it!

So, did we get to see an Octopus? Apart from the ones on the plate at George's Restaurant, sadly not. Of the six pots we put out, three were nicked, probably by local snorkelers who now have them in pride of place on their mantelpieces mistaken for authentic Roman Amphorae. Either that or the octopus liked them so much it walked off with them!

Still, we had a great holiday, Nikki got her Sports Diver and I was very happy with the pictures that I did get. If any of you readers visit Cyprus, find one of the remaining three pots and there's a crafty looking octopus in it, please send me a shot!

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