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Blanket Octopus spotted in Pakistani waters for the first time

Fishers trained by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) have spotted three specimens of blanket octopus from different locations along the coast of Sindh and Balochistan this week in a rare occurrence.

Saeed Badshah spotted a 0.8-meter-long blanket octopus from offshore waters of Balochistan on Saturday, December 7, according to a statement issued by the WWF-Pakistan. This was the first live authentic report from Pakistani waters of this octopus species, added the statement. The fishermen captured the octopus in their gill net while fishing 45 nautical miles south of Ormara. They successfully put it back into the water as they found it a new and unusual discovery.

The second specimen was reported by Ameer Rehman and was caught about 103 nautical miles southwest of Ghora Bari, Sindh on December 8, Sunday. This one-metre-long specimen was also released back into water, the statement said. Another fisherman, Hasnat Khan, who was also trained by the WWF-Pakistan, caught a blanket octopus about 92 nautical miles southwest of Cape Monz at the confluence of Sindh and Balochistan on December 9, Monday. This octopus was about 0.8 metre long and was released immediately.

The fishermen trained by the WWF-Pakistan have also released turtles, whales, dolphins, whale sharks, sunfish and other animals back into waters in the past.

WWF-Pakistan Technical Adviser Muhammad Moazzam Khan in a statement said that the particular species of octopus was found in warm areas of the world such as Indian Ocean, Pacific and Atlantic. “This was never reported in Pakistani waters,” he said, adding that during the last week, various fishermen came across the species in the sea in Sindh and Balochistan. “This is a new addition to Pakistan’s biodiversity,” he said.

Khan explained that the blanket octopuses (Tremoctopus violaceus) are oceanic cephalopods, which are found in surface to mid-waters in subtropical and tropical oceans. They are known as blanket octopus because of their long, transparent web that connects the dorsal and dorsolateral arms of adult females.

The female blanket octopuses can reach two metres in length, whereas, the males are much smaller around 2.4 cm. Khan also shared that when threatened, the female octopus unfurls her large net-like membranes that spread out and billow in the water, largely increasing her apparent size, avoiding predation by fish and other animals. These animals also use ink to intimidate potential predators. The WWF-Pakistan technical adviser said the species’ addition to Pakistan’s marine animals could be a subject of future research. “This also indicates that our coastal areas are very rich in natural resources.”

Dr. Babar Khan, the technical director of WWF-Pakistan Sindh and Balochistan, saw the emergence of blanket octopuses as an important addition to Pakistan’s cephalopod fauna. “Even though this is the first record from Pakistani waters, it can help find this rare cephalopod’s remaining population,” he said.

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