Blackwater Blankets

Blanket assertion: An grownup feminine blanket octopus demonstrating how the species acquired its widespread title, Anilao, Philippines (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, Kraken KRL-09S, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


Octopuses have all the time been a extremely ranked topic for underwater photographers, however there are ranges to their enchantment, with sure species gaining extra consideration than others. If there was an Octopus Corridor of Fame, earlier chart-toppers would absolutely embody the venomous magnificence, the blue-ringed octopus; the shape-shifting mimic octopus; and the extra just lately described wunderpus, which has the most effective scientific title of all cephalopods—Wunderpus photogenicus.

In the previous few years, a brand new contender to this crown has emerged, punching her strategy to the highest spot. Meet the blanket octopus—Tremoctopus sp.—whose attraction is twofold: They’re uncommon and really elusive. Each photographer desires a photograph of a topic that isn’t generally encountered to allow them to exhibit to their associates! In the end although, it’s the sheer great thing about this outstanding cephalopod that has propelled a meteoric stand up the rankings. When a blanket octopus unfurls her ludicrously vibrant blanket, it’s a sight to behold. There may be nothing that compares to the gaudiness of this supermodel’s outfit; we now have a brand new GOAT—Best Octopus of All Time!


The diminutive and far much less flashy male blanket octopus, Anilao, Philippines (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


The explosion of blackwater diving over the past decade has seen the variety of encounters of this species improve from “as soon as in a blue moon” to “occasionally.” To place this into perspective, within the a whole lot of blackwater dives I’ve accomplished, I’ve encountered the smaller male blanket octopus on maybe six dives, the more-coveted females on solely 4 dives—three of those being sightings from a single red-hot week in Anilao in April 2023. These are usually not an on a regular basis encounter!


Blanket Information*

Blanket octopuses are a pelagic species, residing their complete life cycle in open water. This makes them arduous to seek out and even tougher for scientists to review of their pure atmosphere. There are 4 species within the genus:  

  • Tremoctopus gelatus: a gelatinous deep water species from tropical and temperate waters
  • Tremoctopus robsoni: recognized from the waters off of New Zealand
  • Tremoctopus gracilis: palmate octopus discovered within the Indo-Pacific area
  • Tremoctopus violaceus: violet octopus discovered within the Atlantic

Their life cycle can last as long as 5 years, exceptionally lengthy for a cephalopod, and so they have been noticed searching in the identical space for an prolonged time frame. Being a pelagic animal means they don’t make a burrow within the sand or create a house like different octopuses do. These octopuses mate, hunt, feed and thrive within the open ocean and may roam from the depths of the darkish zone to the floor, actually masters of their open ocean area.

Distinctive in look and distinctive in behaviour, the Tremoctopus is proof against the lethal nematocysts of many cnidarians, together with the person o’conflict jellyfish. It’s reported that juvenile Tremoctopus rip the stinging tentacles from the jellyfish after which maintain them with their lateral arms, whipping them about to sting their prey and maybe to guard themselves. Many images present the trailing tentacles and clearly illustrate that that is certainly a typical habits.

*These information are an abbreviated excerpt from Mike Bartick’s glorious guide, The World of Blackwater, which is important studying for any blackwater fanatic. It’s out there on Apple Books and Gumroad.


{A partially} unfurled feminine blanket octopus, Lembeh Strait, Indonesia (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


The sexual habits can also be fascinating. The male of the species reveals a better diploma of dimorphism than any animal but to be found. The feminine can measure as much as six-and-a-half ft in size, whereas the males solely attain a measurement 20mm—lower than an inch—a measurement/weight ratio of as a lot as 10,000 instances! Male Tremoctopus makes use of a specialised arm referred to as the hectocotylus, like different male octopuses, which incorporates its sperm pack. The male solely then wants to the touch the feminine with this specialised arm, because it immediately sticks to her after which snaps off—maybe with out her even understanding.

The arm then creeps down or one way or the other finds its manner into the ovum of the feminine the place she crushes it, releasing the sperm and fertilizing her eggs when the time is correct. Hatching is intermittent. The male, like different octopuses, having accomplished his life’s work, now dies. Nevertheless, the feminine nonetheless has a protracted life forward, brooding and caring for her eggs, till she lastly dies from hunger very similar to different, extra acquainted octopus species.

Tremoctopus will get its widespread title from the blanket that it could actually rapidly unfurl and retract. The feel of the blanket seems to be like an exaggerated model of the webbing {that a} widespread octopus has and makes use of to internet over their prey when searching. Nevertheless, these guys deploy the blanket to make themselves look larger and maybe to hunt and catch crustaceans or different cephalopods just like the paper nautilus. The skinny membrane is colourful and ocellated, very similar to the feathers of a peacock, with a pink, purple-green hue. They will additionally detach their webbing to ensnare a would-be predator or to evade in addition to ink.


A big feminine blanket octopus cruising by the evening, Anilao, Philippines (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, Kraken KRL-09S, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


The place to See

As already talked about, you may encounter blanket octopuses in a wide range of areas, although not all areas have dive operations providing blackwater diving. By far the commonest vacation spot for them to be seen is Anilao within the Philippines. This can be partly resulting from extra operators providing blackwater dives on this space, which in flip places extra eyes on the market to seek out them.

Different Indo-Pacific areas I do know they’ve been seen are Romblon within the Philippines, and each Lembeh and Ambon in Indonesia. On rarer events, blankets will probably be seen on blackwater dives within the Gulf Stream, out of West Palm Seaside, Florida. I’ve additionally learn of them being seen off the Nice Barrier Reef on the east coast of Australia, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mediterranean Sea. 


Blanket Conduct

If you end up on a dive and a blanket octopus turns up, be ready for potential chaos. They’re very fast after they wish to be, so it’s time to shift up a few gears to stick with them. Not like people, blanket octopuses don’t have any of the constraints of equalizing or decompression illness, so can quickly dive into the depths, leaving you with painful ears, or extra dangerously, trigger a diver to ascend at speeds manner quicker than are secure.

Care have to be taken and particular consideration paid to no-decompression limits, air consumption, and most working depths in the event that they head downwards. In the event that they shoot for the floor, divers have to be further cautious with ascent charges. If the latter, it’s a lot safer to cease taking pictures, use your dive gentle to maintain monitor of them whereas ascending at a standard pace, after which recommence taking pictures when you could have caught again up.


A feminine blanket octopus with the blanket retracted, Lembeh Strait, Indonesia (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, Kraken KRL-09S, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


In case you hit the jackpot and get a relaxed supermodel that fortunately poses for a number of pictures, profit from it—you’ve discovered gold! Use this chance to shoot at totally different angles and seize totally different poses, however be ever able to seize the cash shot if the blanket is revealed. If you’re not alone, take turns taking pictures quite than it turning right into a “free for all.” You’ll all get higher pictures this manner. Bear in mind to not destroy others’ pictures whenever you’re not taking pictures: Don’t swim beneath them, making a cloud of bubbles; keep out of their backgrounds; and don’t shine your gentle onto the themes or into their lens.


Digicam Tools and Settings

Provided that an encounter with a blanket octopus is something however assured, establishing in a devoted wide-angle configuration, particularly to shoot a topic their measurement, would imply lacking out on many different blackwater photograph alternatives, given that almost all different topics require a macro setup.

The go-to lens for blackwater is a 50mm/60mm macro lens that focuses shut and quick, giving a 1:1 (or close to to) replica ratio. Longer lenses within the 100mm/105mm vary are usable however will make your life tougher. Up till just lately, resulting from autofocus efficiency and appropriate lenses, the most well-liked blackwater setup was a Nikon D850 or Nikon D500 mixed with the Nikon 60mm macro lens, although with the latest launch of the Nikon Z8, Sony a7R Mark V, and the forthcoming Canon EOS R5 Mark II, your choices are actually not restricted to Nikon DSLRs anymore.


A small feminine blanket octopus, Anilao, Philippines (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, Kraken KRL-09S, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


If you’re taking pictures a full-frame digicam, you will discover that the 60mm lens will adequately accommodate the proportions of all however the largest people. However I discovered that taking pictures Nikon DX (ASP-C) format, with the 1.5 crop issue, you have to again off a bit too far to suit the topic within the body. And extra distance equals extra backscatter.

That is the place the Kraken KRL-09S wide-angle conversion lens comes into play. (The Nauticam MWL-1 does the identical job, simply at greater than double the worth.) I’ve this mounted onto my D500 (for blackwater, I choose the D500’s DX sensor and speedy AF over the D850) on a flip adapter, so if the event arises to shoot one thing larger, it’s a merely a matter of flipping the lens down into place after which rapidly adjusting strobe place for the broader body. This lens provides you 154° area of view when mixed with a 60mm on an FX (full-frame) sensor, so is much less on DX, however it’s excellent for a topic the dimensions of a blanket octopus. You may get a lot nearer, reducing down the water column between the lens and topic for drastically decreased backscatter and sharper, extra colourful pictures.  

Lighting could be achieved from any good-quality strobe, with tender, even lighting being optimum, so use diffusers to assist scale back mirrored highlights. A quick recycle time is helpful for fast taking pictures, permitting you to seize extra accurately uncovered frames in short moments of motion. You don’t wish to be lacking the shot because the blanket unfurls resulting from your flash not recycling rapidly sufficient! I exploit Retra Professional X with the added Supercharger battery packs to halve my recycle instances, plus the tender diffusers. An LED flash set off, or digital sync cords, are a greater possibility than taking pictures with the digicam’s pop-up flash, because the on-board flash has a slower recycle time, which is able to then grow to be the deciding issue on taking pictures pace. You possibly can usually lower the ability of the on-board flash to hurry issues up if that is your solely possibility.


{A partially} unfurled feminine blanket octopus, Anilao, Philippines (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, Kraken KRL-09S, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


Blanket on full show, Anilao, Philippines (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, Kraken KRL-09S, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


The perfect autofocus mode will rely in your particular digicam. For blackwater taking pictures with my D500, I completely use the Steady-Servo 3D Monitoring mode. I’ve discovered this finest for monitoring the smaller critters, whereas on the identical time not being detrimental for bigger topics the place one other AF mode may carry out higher. I don’t wish to be losing time adjusting pointless digicam settings when a blanket turns up; I have to react rapidly, getting right into a taking pictures place whereas concurrently transferring the strobes wider and flipping the moist lens into place.



The stand-out characteristic of a feminine blanket octopus is understandably the colourful membrane possessed between its arms; they will simply be mistaken for a extra widespread species if the blanket just isn’t seen. Don’t chorus from taking pictures when the blanket is retracted although, as they’re nonetheless photogenic, however a shot with the “blanket” on show is the final word objective.

If the blanket is lacking, it’s the equal of your catwalk supermodel whipping off her Versace gown and revealing a Primark tracksuit beneath—she’s nonetheless fairly however regarded rather a lot higher within the designer outfit! Nevertheless, even if you’re fortunate sufficient to come across this gorgeous cephalopod, there is no such thing as a assure that she is going to unfurl the blanket. If she does, it can fairly most likely be for a quick second, so along with being fortunate, you’ll should be on the ball if it occurs, to make sure you are in the fitting place to seize the shot.


The cool, however a lot much less “attractive” of the blanket octopus genders, the male, Anilao, Philippines (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, f/25, 1/250s, ISO400)


A side-on taking pictures angle is what I’m aiming for almost all of the time, as this exhibits the form of the octopus, provides sturdy eye contact and, if the blanket is unfurled, it will grow to be the middle of curiosity. Partially angled pictures additionally work properly, as this will nonetheless present the colourful blanket whereas sustaining good eye contact. A head-on shot isn’t as efficient for me, although can nonetheless present form and coloration, however doesn’t usually have sturdy eye contact, resulting in a weaker composition. If you’re further fortunate, whereby you encounter one at or close to the floor, it’s best to try to include floor ripples and texture into the composition, making a extra fascinating background than plain black. When you have calm sufficient floor situations, look to seize reflections by taking pictures at a barely upward angle (however not too steep) to the floor.


A feminine blanket octopus poses in entrance of a diver, Anilao, Philippines (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, Kraken KRL-09S, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


In April this 12 months, while staying at Crystal Blue Resort in Anilao with Mike Bartick, we have been handled to a sizzling week, giving us encounters with blanket octopuses on three separate dives. The ultimate encounter was transient and chaotic, giving us a minute of mayhem when 4 blanket octopuses confirmed up on the identical time! Our information, Jhomel, noticed them swimming down from the floor and frantically signaled Mike and me over.

Mike was a fraction forward of me and went to at least one on the left, so I went proper. However they’d our quantity, and with each of our eyes glued to the viewfinder taking away our peripheral imaginative and prescient, they comically guided us each into one another, then sped away. I solely managed two frames earlier than they have been gone, leaving me blowing large clouds of bubbles after a 100-meter dash at 32 meters! Upon checking my pictures after the dive, I had nearly managed to seize a body with a second blanket seen within the background. Granted, it’s not the most effective shot, however it’s an excellent memento of a really cool, albeit transient, encounter. It was the primary time Mike had seen grownup females collectively.


A duo of feminine blanket octopuses conserving their namesake “blankets” hidden, Anilao, Philippines (Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro, Kraken KRL-09S, f/32, 1/250s, ISO400)


The dive season in Anilao runs from November by to June, although peak season is from January to April. Blanket octopuses are encountered at any time of 12 months, although this previous April was significantly good, with a number of sightings over subsequent days. If you want to hitch Mike and Alex subsequent 12 months at Crystal Blue Resort in Anilao, they’ve a particular “Blackwater Week” deliberate for April 2nd–ninth, the place they may full critter dives throughout the daytime after which two blackwater dives each evening. If you want additional info or are curious about becoming a member of, please contact Alex at [email protected] for extra info.

Alex Tyrrell is knowledgeable underwater photographer and underwater pictures teacher based mostly on Koh Tao, Thailand. His firm Dive4Photos teaches all ranges of image-makers find out how to enhance their diving and photograph abilities. To see extra of Alex’s huge portfolio of pictures, try his web site,