Some time this summer, an Australian fur seal decided to make its home at the end of Rye Pier in the Mornington Peninsula. Many divers, including myself, had spent more than one playful dive barrel rolling and doing summersaults for the amusement of “Cecile,” the name we had given the friendly seal. More recently, about half way along the pier, a large octopus which we named “The Kraken” had set itself up inside a hollow log.
A few divers had been lucky enough to have been there to see the octopus out hunting during broad daylight. It’s an amazing sight to see with the octopus flashing red and white as it devours crabs, leaving not much more than a few pieces of shell or a claw. On one dive in February, I'd had a close encounter with The Kraken while it was out hunting, and a crab swam up onto my camera rig to try and escape it. The Kraken engulfed my whole camera rig with its “skirt” before realizing that the crab had managed to escape.
I did manage to keep snapping right up until the Kraken took hold of the camera though!
Both of these animals had become local celebrities in our dive community. A couple of weeks later, on a bright sunny day, while out photographing a group of open water student divers for the Academy of Scuba in Rye, I decided that I’d take a swim about 50 meters along the pier to see if Cecile was around. On arriving at the end of the pier, I came across the seal and the octopus meeting head to tentacle.
The seal already had the upper hand and the octopus looked like it was stunned, as there was no ink in the water, it was not changing color, and there was very little movement from it. I knew immediately that this was something special, and not the kind of event that you get to see every day. The first thing that came to mind was that I wanted to do it justice in the images I took of this rare encounter.
The seal was swimming circles around me, dragging the octopus by one tentacle and trying to tear chunks off it. This meant that one second the sun was shining directly on them, and the next it was silhouetting them, so it was almost impossible to expose correctly while following them with the camera. Things were moving pretty quickly and I knew I would need a fast shutter speed, both to freeze the action and avoid blowing out the highlights of the sun too much.
I decided that I wanted a shot with the sun in the background and include a couple of the pillars of the pier, so I picked my spot to shoot from and framed up the image. I checked and adjust the exposure settings, adding a little fill flash to light the subjects and balance the foreground and background. Then all I had to do was wait until the seal obligingly came back into the right spot for the shot I was after.
The shot that won the April DPG Underwater Photography Monthly Contest turned out to be one of the first that I took, while the octopus was still in one piece. The seal dragged the octopus towards the surface and let go of it almost above my head. The octopus drifted down towards me and was pretty much on the end of my lens as the seal dived down and grabbed one of the octopus' arms and that’s when I took the shot.
I managed to get off around 15 shots before the little light started blinking on my camera and I realized that I hadn’t recharged the batteries in between dives!! The camera gave up soon after, which was both a blessing as well as a curse. It gave me the opportunity to put away the camera and witness the bigger picture rather than the bright little rectangle that usually shines in front of me when I dive. And it was a timely reminder to put the camera down once in a while and remember why I’m underwater in the first place—because I love it there.
Shot taken on a Canon S90 in a FIX housing with INON UFL165 fisheye lens and a single INON Z2000 strobe. 1/250s, f/3.2