Last fall I was drifting for tuna and swordfish in 500 fathoms south of The Dip, located 70 miles southeast of Shinnecock Inlet, Long Island, on the hundred-fathom line of an offshore canyon. What appeared to be an octopus swam right up to the transom lights. I dip-netted it, and then it seemed to shed its outer layer of skin. I released it quickly, and it swam away in a hurry. Can you identify it?
Fair Haven, New Jersey
A: Your mystery animal is a pelagic octopod, Tremoctopus violaceus. It does have the ability to shed its "skin," which is actually the web of tissue between its dorsal arms, possibly to distract a potential predator so it can swim away. The females can grow to a length of 3 feet or more. Some truly awesome underwater photos of this animal can be seen on the Tree of Life website (www.tolweb.org/tremoctopus), in an article by Mangold, Vecchione and Young. Check it out for much more information on this remarkable octopus. - Michael Fahay