How Blue Planet II filmed the shark vs octopus battle

Producer Kathryn Jeffs how a camera crew captured "something that had never been filmed before"

(BBC, TL)

Blue Planet II episode 5 heads to the shallow waters this week. In one scene, a pyjama shark – a species more aggressive than the great white – attempts to hunt down an octopus. However, prey turns on predator in the most unlikely way…

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Producer Kathryn Jeffs reveals all about the epic battle…

What we were going out to film was this exceptionally clever octopus hunting invertebrates and small fish in the wonderfully rich kelp forest off the southern tip of South Africa. But we were also aware of the vast number of other predators, like the pyjama shark, that hunt in the kelp.

“These sharks are a metre long, much more aggressive than great whites and completely adapted for hunting in the rubble. So what we saw was the female octopus we were following squeezing into a tiny hole to hide but the shark then rooting it out. And that, we presumed, was the end of the octopus. But then two incredible things happened. First, the octopus pushed its arms into the gills of the shark to the extent that the shark was literally suffocating and going to die if it didn’t let it go.

A common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) fighting off an attack by a pyjama shark (Poroderma africanum), an expert at hunting in the undergrowth. The octopus must be careful - it can sacrifice a limb but a bite to its head could prove fatal. (BBC, TL)
A common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) fighting off an attack by a pyjama shark (Poroderma africanum), an expert at hunting in the undergrowth. The octopus must be careful – it can sacrifice a limb but a bite to its head could prove fatal (BBC)
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And then, when stranded in the open, the octopus covered itself in shells as a type of armour to conceal and protect itself. It was incredible. There was an inkling of this behaviour, but it’s never been described by science and has never been filmed by anyone. It was only by filming over many months — spread out probably well over a year — that these behaviours emerged and we were capturing something that had never been filmed before.

A common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) hiding from a lurking pyjama shark (Poroderma africanum). In a behavior that is new to science, the octopus forms a ball and surrounds itself with a protective armour of shells. (BBC, TL)
An octopus hiding from a lurking pyjama shark. In behaviour that is new to science, the octopus forms a ball and surrounds itself with a protective armour of shells. (BBC)