National Geographic : 1948 Jan
We Survive on a Pacific Atoll gasping for air as we bobbed up and down with our heavy load convinced us that we would never make the beach. Settling to the bottom, we cut the mantle and severed the other end of the valve muscle. The white ropelike muscle is delicious raw, tasting somewhat plantlike, and with a sweet ish flavor. Goniske and I divided and ate it while resting on a coral head. The large, slimy mantle and a small, brown, fatty bag, which Goniske considered the choicest morsel, were put aside for chowder. Locating several other clams grouped to gether on a coral formation, we marked the spot for future needs with the marble white interior of the opened Tridacna shell. The smooth reflecting surface stood out as an unnatural object on the lagoon floor. We had barely completed this task when we heard a call from Frank. I swam toward him while Goniske carried our prize ashore. Through the clear water I could see a dark column of inky fluid extending from the bot tom and mushrooming to the surface. Frank had an octopus at bay. We had caught a number of these grotesque creatures with their parrotlike beaks and strangely piercing stares. Viewed at close range beneath the water and magnified by refraction, they always sent a chill down my back. I think we all felt a little that way, but they were the best of food prepared a la Goniske, and we took every opportunity to capture them. Through the sepia-tinted water I could see that Frank had planted his spear in one, but as usual the octopus was wedged in a crevice with the sucking disks of all eight tentacles holding fast. This was not the tremendous deepwater octopus that sometimes measures 25 feet across and could easily drown a man. Such monsters are rarely encountered, but the small reef species averaging three and four feet across are common in all tropical waters (page 76). However, Frank was about to learn that even these small creatures can be dangerous under certain conditions. Into the Octopus Lair The water was scarcely eight feet deep. I relieved Frank of the spear, continuing to hold it pressed firmly into the saclike body of the octopus. The water had cleared, and as Frank swam down I could see two beady eyes and a pair of snaky tentacles that were feeling their way up the spear. His gloved hand slid down the spear between two roving tentacles and forced its way into the coral crack to grasp the body of the octopus. A cloud of sepia burst in his face and rapidly spread, momentarily concealing him from view. Through the spear I could feel the vibrations of a tugging match going on be low. Another discharge darkened the water. The struggle continued. As the inky substance slowly drifted aside, I could see Frank with his hand still in the crevice, his arm entwined by tentacles, his feet braced against a coral block. He was pulling with all his strength. Suddenly his hand slipped out of the glove and he shot to the surface, gasping descriptive but not complimentary phrases. With a firm hold on the body but held in turn by the tentacles, Frank had discovered that the octopus had the controlling grip. Caught short of air, unable to open his gloved fist to pull it out of the small hole, he had nearly come off second best. By enlarging the cavity in the coral we were able to retrieve the glove and extricate the octopus. Immediately it twined its ten tacles around Frank's arm, but we knew how to handle him in open water. Frank quickly slid his free hand down the length of his arm, breaking the tentacles loose just as you would pry a rubber suction disk off a window pane. Before they could fasten again he turned the octopus inside out, render ing it helpless. Crabs Captured at Night The nights frequently proved more pro ductive than the days. Many terrestrial and aquatic creatures move around only after dark. The giant coconut crab and the spiny lobster were two delicacies that kept us for aging into the late hours. During the day the coconut crabs remained hidden in deep coral crevices. We located their burrows by the piles of old coconut husks, baited the area with freshly opened nuts, and after dark captured the crabs as they came out to feed. There was a sense of expectancy in creeping among the sprouted coconuts and coral boul ders, watching for the shine of crab eyes as our light played over the rough ground and dense vegetation. Sometimes the slow, de liberate movement of the big crabs revealed them to us, or again it would be the sound of one dragging a coconut. The problem was to secure the crab with out losing a finger. A large specimen could nip a chunk the size of a silver dollar out of a fibrous coconut husk or crush a good-sized coral stone to powder.