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Island diver goes to great depths to reveal secrets of the octopus

The giant Pacific octopus is the largest of the 300 species of octopuses
The giant Pacific octopus is the largest of the 300 species of octopuses, with an arm span that can reach up to nine metres across.

Deep beneath the cold, oxygen-rich waters off the Pacific coast, a solitary creature roams the sea bed, captivating the imagination of those fortunate enough to encounter it. 

The giant Pacific octopus is the largest of the 300 species of octopuses, with an arm span that can reach up to nine metres across. This elusive cephalopod spends its life in dens nestled in caves and crevasses when it's not exploring the sea floor, hunting for mollusks, shellfish and crustaceans. 

Krystal Janicki, dubbed the "octopus whisperer” by the diving community of the North Island, spent nearly a decade befriending and learning more about these creatures.

Though the diver now boasts more than 1,000 dives, her unlikely journey started nine years ago, in the waters of her hometown of Campbell River. 

Initially apprehensive about the ocean and completely unfamiliar with diving, Janicki recounted how her perspective shifted on one particular weeknight.

“At first, I thought the ocean here was full of slippery, gross, and creepy. I didn't really think much of it,” Janicki explained. “But as I was getting older… I wanted to understand what (was going on beneath the surface.)
“One day I was driving home from work… and I just had a rough day. I saw the ocean and I went down (by the beach) and just started swimming in my work boots. I never felt so alive and I wanted to know what was in the water.”

A week later, Janicki enrolled solo in her first diving class and her world expanded tenfold as soon as she took her first breath underwater, she explained. Thus began her love affair with the ocean. 

Her first interaction with the giant Pacific octopus happened around her 60th dive. 

“I was (exploring) a shipwreck with an older more experienced gentleman diver,” Janicki recalled. ‘When we dropped down, we saw an octopus sitting on the top deck of this sunken ship. The diver started having an interaction with his octopus and I could not believe how everything I ever thought (about this creature) was, in a split moment, just gone. 
“(I was fascinated by) the way it moved, the way it was looking at the diver, and the way it was exploring. It just seems so kind and curious. I couldn't even comprehend what I was seeing.”

After witnessing this interaction, Janicki wanted to know everything about this unique creature. She devoured all the information that she could come across. 

“The more I learn the more I'm just blown away by them. I think what kind of first caught me off guard… was how so incredibly brilliant, curious and kind they were. I have had interactions with hundreds of them and I've never had one bite or have an angry one spout ink at me.
“But their brilliance is what baffles me the most. They have nine brains that connect to each eight of their arms and they all connect to their main brain. They have up to 250 suckers per arm and every one of those suckers is like having a fingertip and a taste bud. They can move each of those suckers individually so they can taste and feel. They can comprehend everything that’s happening in their vicinity all at once. I can't even fathom how that would even function.”

In her quest for knowledge Janicki contacted numerous scientists and marine biologists to gather more information, but eventually came to a surprising realization. 

“The more I reached out, the more I had people admit that we don't actually know (much about them),” said Janicki. "A lot of information that they have is from octopuses in aquariums. There are a lot of differences in having an animal in captivity as opposed to in the wild because it takes hundreds and hundreds of repetitive dives in natural conditions to learn more about these creatures.”

In parallel to her research, the diver seemed to have developed a knack for connecting and befriending octopuses. 

“I'd say about 80 per cent of my dives, I would be finding octopuses, which I thought was normal,” Janicki said. “I started chatting with divers and buddies and they were (blown away) by how often I would see octopuses. I was like, ‘Isn't that normal?’ and they said no. That's when people started saying, ‘Oh, you must be the octopus whisperer.’"

Luckily for Janicki, she resides and dives in what is considered by many to be one of the best places in the world to swim with these elusive invertebrates. She explained the constant flow of cold, fresh and nutrient-dense waters surrounding Vancouver Island makes for the perfect habitat for these gentle giants. 

Both her location and unique insights into the behaviour of giant Pacific octopuses recently garnered the attention of National Geographic. Some of Janicki’s interactions with the sea creature were captured on tape in the docu-series Secrets of the Octopus, which premiered on April 21. 

When asked what sets the giant Pacific octopus apart from other marine animals, Janicki highlighted two main differences: their unique intelligence and ways of interacting with the world. 

“Seals and otters, for example, are in schools and they've got their buddies (to learn) and help each other,” explained Janicki. “But octopuses are learning solely from experience. (It’s fascinating) watching them screw up and realize that they have to adapt. Their patience is incredible.

These gentle giants demonstrated time and time again a remarkable affinity for human interaction and displayed distinct “individual personalities,” she added 

It’s through patience, respect, and keen observation, that Jenicki managed to befriend countless octopuses over her diving career and gain invaluable life lessons along the way. 

“I think patience and adaption are the biggest thing (I’ve learned from them),” said Janicki. “They fail a lot… but they don't give up. They learn from their mistakes. This taught me just to calm down and take a few extra breaths when things do not go right.”