Cephalopods in the UK

Thanks to the many excellent natural history documentaries, nearly all of us are familiar with exotic octopuses, maybe even cuttlefish and squid too. Fewer of us realise that what we see in these exotic locations can actually and relatively easily, be found around the UK coast, and often in only a few meters of water. In some ways, scientists know a great deal about some cephalopods (the taxonomic name for all the alien-like squishy animals we marvel at). UK scientists have won the Nobel prize (1963) for their work on the Giant Squid physiology and we know in intricate detail how cephalopods change colour so rapidly (see review) and we have known this for quite a long time.

However, we know very, very little about their behaviour in the wild, especially Cephalopods in the UK. I wrote about a mass stranding of octopuses in October, and one of the odd things was that so many were so close together, they are thought to be solitary animals that are found at depths in rocky areas. Not together in the sand. We know little about their behaviour simply because they are hidden from view to nearly all of us, bar those brave souls who dive (all year round!) in UK waters.

To help understand the octopus stranding I created a citizen science project asking for help in learning more about these amazing yet secretive animals. The Facebook group I created (UK Cephalopod Reports) was designed to aid this, by encouraging citizens to become scientists, and we are finally beginning to learn what motivates these amazing animals, what they do with their time and how they do it.

For example, we have seen cuttlefish sleeping in groups for the first time, we have seen them schooling in a huge group of 30, a first for this species. We have been given videos of cuttlefish fighting, squid schooling and bobtails bobbing. There has been a sighting of a huge common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) which was thought to have gone extinct from our waters after a cool snap in the 1960’s. We have seen our cephalopods hunting a night, exhibiting different behaviours than that of those during the day (fig4). We have had over 200 sightings of our octopus (Eledone cirrhosa), including may in rock pools, which was a very exciting find.

The UK dive community have been amazing at providing observations of the animals in the water (and long may they continue – cheers guys!) but what we would also like to investigate these amazing phenomena and see what is going on. SCUBA diving can be very expensive, time- consuming and not without risk. In many areas of exploration if it's too costly for humans then we send in the drones...and this is exactly what we'd use a drone from the SEE initiative for...taking the amazing citizen science observations further.

If you have some of your own observations reporting these findings is very simple. My Facebook group (UK cephalopod reports) allows you to upload videos and photographs directly, just state where it was you saw the mini-Kraken in the


These animals are very delicate and are thought to genuinely experience distress so please respect them and treat them nicely. In other words, no touching, poking or prodding. If the tide has just gone out and you see one on the sand, wait and see what it does, one of the observations we have made is that they seem to bury themselves, perhaps to escape drying out.

Originally posted on National Geographic Open Explorer to cephalopodcitsci.

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