Susan, your octopus got loose again!” A crew member delivered the news to photographer Susan Middleton late at night during a 2006 expedition in the French Frigate Shoals, the largest atoll in the North western Hawaiian Islands.
Middleton rushed to the wet lab where she had been photographing a day octopus alongside scientists collecting and listing marine invertebrates as part of the Census of Marine Life, a decade-long international collaboration (2000-2010) to assess the world’s ocean inhabitants.
Middleton knew she had tucked the octopus into a five-gallon bucket with a lid before she went to bed, but it had escaped twice. On its third breakaway, Middleton found it trying to make a run for the deck, its three-foot-long arms sticking to the floor, and its talent for changing color, pattern and texture no match for the linoleum.
The portrait that Middleton eventually captured of the octopus before putting it back in the sea is one of the 250 images she photographed for her new book, Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, The Backbone of Life, published by Abrams.