Hakai Magazine

Coastal science and societies

octopus

Do You See What Eye See?

A research team tries to unlock the secrets of underwater vision and camouflage.

Authored by

by Erik Olsen

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Roger Hanlon is one of the world’s foremost experts on one of the planet’s most amazing creatures: the octopus. For decades, he has undertaken expeditions around the globe to study these intelligent creatures. Now, Hanlon and engineer and oceanographer Derya Akkaynak are on the homestretch of an eight-year odyssey to find out whether cephalopod camouflage is really as effective as we think—and they’ve got just the tool to do it.

In May 2019, Hanlon and Akkaynak ventured to the Lembeh Strait in northern Indonesia with a one-of-a-kind still camera with hyperspectral imaging capabilities that Hanlon and his colleagues designed and built over four years. The camera has the ability to see 16 different colors, 13 more than the human eye can see. It will show us how undersea creatures actually see cephalopods such as the flamboyant cuttlefish and the mimic octopus, as opposed to how we see them. Akkaynak’s skill in interpreting the camera’s images is integral to the success of the mission, but will the camera work?

This scientific expedition could have a huge impact on not only our understanding of animal vision, but also how these incredible creatures evolved with such complex brains in a way completely different from human evolution. Their exploration delves into the sophisticated nature of life on earth.