The Hammer Octopus

One of the most photogenic creatures of the Sydney Harbour is the Hammer Octopus, who has only been found along the East coast of Australia. The name comes from the shape of one of the arms (I found out Octopuses do not actually have tentacles but arms) that in males is modified for mating, technically called hectocotylus.

I have been looking for pictures showing that characteristic, but after spending some time on Google it does not appear to be any publicly available. I only found a drawing from an old book. The octopus itself is quite limited in terms of internet presence being just in this part of the world and most of the written references are just a copy and paste of the same information.

After photographing half a dozen of these octopuses around Sydney, finally last night I came across a specimen with such a arm, which you can see here on its 2 sides. So if you happen to see a Hammer Octopus and you want to check that peculiarity, look at third arm to the left, but remember only males have that.

This octopus is not rare but he does not like to hang around where divers usually go. You may find him on sandy bottoms of the harbour, easier at night because during the day he hides under the sand leaving just the eyes out.

The discovery of this octopus happened during the expedition of the HMS Challenger in 1872, when she circumnavigated the globe for 4 years. The Challenger was a floating lab for the world’s first large-scale oceanographic expedition, and collected thousands of specimens of new species among which some Octopus Australis when she stopped in the Sydney Harbour for a couple months, possibly the crew needed to stretch the legs a bit.

Today, using the expedition’s specimens and records, researchers are able to see if species live in the same places they did 150 years ago and explore the ways that climate change is affecting animals. If you want to understand how much the world is warming today, you have to take into account things that happened before the Industrial Revolution.