The octopus, the squid, the cuttlefish and the nautilus of the class Cephalopoda are some of the most fascinating and intelligent creatures on the planet. They make up a part of the mollusc family which includes snails, clams and oysters. Cephalopods have characteristics unique to their class, such as their ability to change colour, recognise people, solve problems, squirt ink and survive both in warm, shallow, tropical seas and in the deepest, coldest oceans.
Many of their diverse forms, such as the giant squid and the highly venomous blue ringed octopus, continue to captivate the wonder and imagination of society today, from myths about their fossils and life history to films featuring tentacled sea-monsters. Their complex behaviour, camera-like eyes and ability to adapt to different environments demonstrate that cephalopods are more advanced than they might first appear.
Prof Louise Allcock, chief scientist and lecturer at NUI Galway, recently returned from a survey aboard the Marine Institute's RV Celtic Explorer along with a team of researchers exploring the biodiversity of Ireland's deep sea with the aim of exploring and conserving Ireland's deep sea genetic resources. Using the remotely operated vehicle ROV Holland I they collect fauna such as sponges and corals and capture film footage showing the diversity of life at extreme depths in the ocean.
During Prof. Allcock's expeditions, she has often come across Cephalopoda in all shapes and sizes noting that anywhere that you look in the ocean, you will probably find a cephalopod. "There are not many organisms that can exist anywhere but cephalopods are so flexible in their body shape and their life style that they have diversified into many different forms to colonise nearly every habitat in the ocean. They have found unique ways of dealing with buoyancy which has allowed them to exist on the seafloor and in the water column and to get to many places that other animals can't,"
Prof Allcock discusses the way that technology has changed marine discovery, saying "originally octopuses and squids were discovered with fisheries trawling but now, using a remotely operated vehicle, which is like a submarine with a camera that can reach extreme depths, we can explore Ireland's deep sea in an entirely new way. Octopuses are not known to be seen on abyssal sea plains but an ROV team captured an image of one at 4000 metres depth."
"There is so much that we don't know about the deep sea and it is amazing to think that creatures with some snail like features and such advanced brains can exist at such extremes of temperature and pressure", Louise further added in a recent interview with the BBC In our Times Series.