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Blue Rings


wazatherfisherman
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After first seeing a Blue Ringed Octopus at Manly Marine Land as a kid, it was many years later before seeing the first one in the 'wild'. I was on holidays with the relatives, who'd hired a holiday unit at Shoal Bay in Port Stephens. They had their boat moored just off the beach, straight across the road from the unit and had made their own 'mooring' by using about 4 anchors, chain and a few other bits and pieces so the boat would be ready to go each day for the two weeks we were there.

On the final day of the trip my cousin Pete donned goggles, retrieved the mooring and we dropped it onto the floor of the boat. From inside of the mooring a tiny octopus fell on the floor as we tossed a few bits of attached kelp overboard. No big deal, we'd caught a few octopus over the course of the holiday but these had been 'regular' occi's about a foot long. Due to this little guy being so small, we picked it up with a pair of the old 'fish-grippers' -which were a purpose-made scissor like tool that were great for picking up fish. Sure enough, as soon as it was grabbed by the gripper, it's bright blue rings illuminated. We put it in a bucket and headed in to the beach.

The owner of the units was talking to a couple of friends and came down to say g'day, but on seeing the octopus in the bucket, told us he had a 'special place' for them. We learned later that the special place was between two bricks- he didn't want it known they were around.

Back in Sydney, before learning of the plastic octopus-on-a-stick to catch crabs, we used to spear our crabs or simply grab them, which was quite time consuming. One afternoon, a regular 'lone fisherman' who lived above our fishing area, was watching us mucking around as we caught our crabs for the night and decided to show us the 'proper way' to catch them. He looked for a deep crevice right on the water's edge and plunged both arms downwards into the unseen depths of the narrow crack, before slowly but purposely bringing each hand together. He lifted out a massive 'ball' of red crabs and in the 30 or so seconds he took to get them, ended up with more than double the amount of crabs we'd caught between 3 of us in about half an hour.

He then insisted we have a go doing it, but we were all reluctant to- citing Blue Ring's and green eels as our main concern, plus the fact that the other types of crabs like the purple clawed 'Variegated shore crab'(known as 'Scuttley's"), Reef crab (they look like mud crabs and are called 'Tanks') and Sowrie crab (known as 'Scotchey's' because of their tartan-like green markings) are all large clawed crabs that easily draw blood when they nip you. He laughed and explained why it was pretty safe to do his method.

Firstly, if you can see crabs in your chosen crevice, then there are neither eels or octopus in there, as the crabs take off when either turn up. Secondly, the other types of crabs run away from your fingers, but the red crabs just cling onto their spot and stay put- making 'identifying' them by hand simple. The red crabs that remain holding on, are usually in sufficient number to be bundled together and with smaller claws in the more abundant female crabs, you aren't likely to suffer any serious nips.

In theory, this sounds great and makes perfect sense, however at 'crunch time' of pushing your fingers into 'unsee-able' waterside crevices, it's not something I really fancied doing. I have to say though, for the blokes braver than me (everyone that does it!) I never saw any injuries or bites or octopus. Still happy to let others do it, I would rather use the plastic octopus crab 'frightener' instead- regardless it takes longer.

Most of the guys we fished the rocks with, at some stage ended up having a 'feel' for crabs down the cracks, but it took me nearly fifteen years before I had a proper go and even then I was pretty apprehensive about doing it. 

Then one summer's day, while wading around in a low tide pool and getting a few crabs and some cunje, we spotted a small octopus, then another and another and they weren't that far away from the crabs. A quick prod with the crab spear and their identities were revealed- they were all Blue Ringed Occi's and there were heaps of them living in spots we'd been grabbing crabs for years. That day put an end to the crab feeling technique for us forever- if you happened to get bitten by a Blue Ringed at the base of a big cliff and reacted badly to it's tetrodotoxin, you may well have not even got back up the cliff.

A few years passed and after not seeing any of these pretty but deadly little octopus, we encountered 3 in the space of two weeks and in what I thought were the most unlikely spots. While scooping prawns for bait one night at Abbotsford on the Parramatta River, we walked out on a rock shelf in only about a foot of water and watched a small octopus stalk a prawn on the rock. Johnno who was next to me in the water, decided it would be a good bait to add to the few tiny squid and couple of dozen prawns we had in the bucket and gently scooped it up in his prawn net. Even after tipping it out in the bucket, no blue rings were visible, but as I'd seen them without their colours previously, I told him not to touch it at all until we got back out of the water. Sure enough, after a few prods with the net handle, it revealed it's true identity as a Blue Ringed Occi and we released it.

The very next night, about 500m around the corner, again while prawning for bait, we got another one a bit larger. This one was also out hunting a prawn on a rock shelf, but instantly displayed it's neon-like coloured markings when netted. We released it and thought it was pretty rare to see two of them so far away from the ocean, as we'd previously thought of them as oceanic or lower harbour creatures. This thinking was totally incorrect and about ten days later caught a third one while prawning near Dobroyd Point Aquatic club, same type of circumstance, the octopus was actively pursuing a prawn on a shallow rock shelf

Although deaths from octopus bites are really rare, they are a possibility and there is still no antivenom for them. Really swift medical treatment is needed if you're unlucky enough to suffer a bite, as paralysis and breathing difficulties are likely. Pressure immobilisation bandages applied immediately are the recommended first-aid, but swiftly getting to a hospital is most important.

I had no idea that they would be so far up the river, but they certainly are. It certainly changed my thinking about them

 

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They are common, but quite timid and mostly stay away from you, spent many nights getting red crabs around the rocks, when I started diving I found it easier to get them just under the water and use gloves to grab them, as you said, the red crabs are OK, but those purple/blue looking ones bite big time, and they are fast. I have posted here before how a blue ring near killed my son, that was an experience.....

When we were about 10 years old a friend caught one and had it crawling up his arm, I told him they are dangerous and he said his father told him they were "night octopus" and harmless, he just flicked it back into the water, looking back, he was pretty lucky.

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Great story Waza. 

My Dad was a big fan of baby octopus, used whole as a jew bait and I can remember coming across a quite a few blue rings when collecting bait with him. Hence his collection technique of a crab imitation on the end of a spear.

I also remember when I was young, a guy was bitten by one at Crookhaven Heads and died. I assume he must have been fit and healthy too as he was in the army.

 

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When I was about 6 or 7 years old my dad took me for a fish at jervis bay wading in the shallows. I was getting bored and spotted a small octopus about half a metre from my feet. I decided to prod at it with a stick and sure enough it showed the vivid rings, which I was oblivious to, and when dad walked over he nearly had a heart attack as I was trying to pick it up. Close call.

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Millions of them in Jervis Bay, a couple of years ago we had a family day out at Long Beach, the kids picked up some shells and two Blue Rings were in them, plus I have seen dozens of them at Honeymoon Bay and Green Patch, they must love it there for some reason.

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6 hours ago, noelm said:

They are common, but quite timid and mostly stay away from you, spent many nights getting red crabs around the rocks, when I started diving I found it easier to get them just under the water and use gloves to grab them, as you said, the red crabs are OK, but those purple/blue looking ones bite big time, and they are fast. I have posted here before how a blue ring near killed my son, that was an experience.....

When we were about 10 years old a friend caught one and had it crawling up his arm, I told him they are dangerous and he said his father told him they were "night octopus" and harmless, he just flicked it back into the water, looking back, he was pretty lucky.

Hi Noel glad to hear your son survived! 

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3 hours ago, motiondave said:

I got one, as I was reeling a line in, was chewing on the bait, about 15 km upstream from ocean in Lane Cove river, a few years back. 

Hi Dave for some reason I thought they were only oceanic but they are certainly well up the rivers as well.

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3 hours ago, Green Hornet said:

Great story Waza. 

My Dad was a big fan of baby octopus, used whole as a jew bait and I can remember coming across a quite a few blue rings when collecting bait with him. Hence his collection technique of a crab imitation on the end of a spear.

I also remember when I was young, a guy was bitten by one at Crookhaven Heads and died. I assume he must have been fit and healthy too as he was in the army.

 

Hi Pete your collection technique is a great idea (and safe!) I think people know these days they are deadly

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3 hours ago, puddlejumper said:

When I was about 6 or 7 years old my dad took me for a fish at jervis bay wading in the shallows. I was getting bored and spotted a small octopus about half a metre from my feet. I decided to prod at it with a stick and sure enough it showed the vivid rings, which I was oblivious to, and when dad walked over he nearly had a heart attack as I was trying to pick it up. Close call.

Hi Puddlejumper there's no mistaking the colours when they're lit up. Close call for sure

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43 minutes ago, wazatherfisherman said:

Hi Noel glad to hear your son survived! 

It was pretty scary at the time, only his good health and age saved him. I haven't eaten those baby Octopus since and never will.

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Great story Waz.

We used to collect what we would call tube worms from the ocean rocks or in the water around ocean rocks where you would be up to you waist in water on the Central Coast and would occasionally get one in the clump of worms. Also got one up in Woy Woy bay a few years ago so they certainly get around.

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37 minutes ago, Blackfish said:

Great story Waz.

We used to collect what we would call tube worms from the ocean rocks or in the water around ocean rocks where you would be up to you waist in water on the Central Coast and would occasionally get one in the clump of worms. Also got one up in Woy Woy bay a few years ago so they certainly get around.

Hi Blackfish there are probably millions of them around and we rarely see them because they're nocturnal hunters

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