Whether animals choose to stay in herds before they migrate or because they always travel together in packs, it’s always amazing to see hundreds if not thousands of animals all together at once.
This past year, we saw a record 35,000 walruses gathered on a beach near the village of Point Lay in northwest Alaska, a result of climate change, because they weren’t able to find sea ice to rest upon.
In contrast, there are surreal scenes like Eiko Jones’ photo of thousands of tadpoles swimming amongst lilies in a local swamp and Annie Griffiths’ beautifully serene image of white pelicans drifting down a sinuous river.
We begin, however, with Frans Lanting’s incredible shot of King Penguins, as far as the eye can see.
It was taken on South Georgia Island, a British overseas territory.
Fish, Mexico – Photo by Octavio Aburto
Zebras, Serengetti, Africa – Photo by Giulio Zanni
Malaya, right, a six month old Snow Leopard, pounces on her mother Zoe in the snow at the Central Park Zoo, in New York. (Photo by Chad Rachman/The New York Post)
A strawberry poison dart frog (Oophaga pumilio), which is part of the new “Land of Frogs” permanent exhibition at the Gamboa Rainforest Hotel on the outskirts of Panama City. (Photo by Carlos Jasso/Reuters)
A long-eared owl (Asio otus) sits in a tree near Seelow in the district of Maerkisch-Oderland in eastern Germany. (Photo by Patrick Pleul/AP Photo/DPA)
Two spotted or laughing hyena (Crocuta crocuta) babies sit in a pen after their medical examination in Jaszbereny Zoo in Jaszbereny, 77 kms east of Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Janos Meszaros/EPA)
If you cut off an octopus’s arm, the severed limb will still move about for at least an hour.
That’s because each arm has its own control system—a network of around 400,000 neurons that can guide its movements without any command from the creature’s brain.
The hundreds of suckers along each arm can also behave independently. If a sucker touches an object, it will change its shape to form a tight seal, and contract its muscles to create a powerful suction. It grabs and sucks, by reflex.
This setup allows the octopus to control its astonishing appendages without overly taxing its brain.
Your arm has a small number of joints and can bend in a limited number of ways.
But an octopus’s arm can create as many joints as it wants, in any direction, anywhere along its length. It can also extend, contract, and reshape itself.
To control such infinitely flexible limbs, it needs to outsource control to the limbs themselves.
But what happens if one arm brushes past another? If the suckers grab objects on reflex, why aren’t octopuses constantly grabbing themselves by mistake?
To find out, octopus arm expert Benny Hochner teamed up with octopus sucker expert Frank Grasso.
“Octopus suckers are undervalued in terms of their complexity,” says Grasso. “I’m one of their proponents.
From the dark, chilly waters they materialized—massive beings with large eyes that I knew were watching my every move from deep below long before I ever saw them.
The fish were nearly 10 feet in length and several feet thick, weighing around 1,000 pounds, and moved unlike anything else I had seen underwater.
Spinning around in circles I would see them rocket up from the depths, turn on a dime while flashing colors, then disappear back into the gloom. At least a dozen of them swam around me, and I scanned all axes trying to follow their movements. As they passed by I rolled in the wake of their mighty bulk.
Mesmerized by this fluid scene, I forced myself out of the trance I was in and began making pictures, but just kept repeating over and over in my head, “these are perfect oceanic creatures.”
They were the creatures that had haunted my dreams and stirred my soul. Feeling at times like Ahab, I’d pursued these animals for almost two decades; a quest not to capture, but to photograph.
And finally, I was here, on assignment for National Geographic magazine, tasked with bringing back images of these elusive and enigmatic beasts. I was in the northern realm of the last of the giants.