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B.C. man unlocks secrets of the giant Pacific octopus for Disney

Secrets of the Octopus National Geographic series now streaming

They use tools, shapeshift and are known for being highly intelligent creatures of the sea.

Thanks to a new National Geographic series now streaming on Disney+, Comox Valley cinematographer and diver Maxwel Hohn captured the enigmatic giant Pacific octopus for Secrets of the Octopus, which premiered Sunday (April 21).

The Emmy-award-winning cinematographer, who was part of the team from Nexflix’s Island of the Sea Wolves, paired up with Australian-based SeaLight Pictures and Black Creek octopus whisperer Krystal Janicki to look at the world’s largest octopus. The series executive producer is James Cameron and is narrated by Paul Rudd.

The pair worked on the only Canadian part of the series to capture the giant Pacific octopus, found in the temperate waters of the Pacific northwest.

Hohn said he connected with SeaLight Pictures because of his diving experience and comprehensive understanding of the conditions and environment in the waters off the Comox Valley and Vancouver Island.

“I’m known as the cold water guy. They had me originally as the second shooter and sent their own crew, but the conditions were difficult, so we ended up doing it ourselves.”

He explained that conditions such as sunlight, wind, water clarity and animal behaviour all play crucial roles in getting footage and estimated that he made about 80 dives for the shoot. However, most of the dives were exploratory looking at giant Pacific octopus behavior, with most of the footage captured during one or two dives.

As every octopus has a different personality, he said one of the most difficult challenges was finding one to befriend.

“Krystal and I spent hours underwater looking for the right octopus. We were starting to become discouraged until we saw an arm reaching out of a rocky den. We kept our distance, but as the octopus became more aware we weren’t a threat, she became interested in us too, and eventually came out of her den completely. It’s like she chose to be with us.

“It took a bit of luck and a ton of patience.”

In addition to Janicki, Hohn paired up with local divers Tynan Callesen, Shannon Groenewegen, Manfred Lippe, Russell Clark and Roger McDonell and a dive store in Campbell River, where Hohn will be watching the first episode - which he hasn’t yet seen in totality.

Secrets of the Octopus is the third in what has become a growing series between National Geographic and Disney+: Secrets of the Whales (narrated by Sigourney Weaver) premiered in 2021 and Secrets of the Elephants (narrated by Natalie Portman) streamed in 2023.

Hohn’s next project is Shared Planet, a CBC series focusing on stories of people and wildlife flourishing together. That project is in its final edit and is set for release in 2025.

Erin Haluschak

About the Author: Erin Haluschak

Erin Haluschak is a journalist with the Comox Valley Record since 2008. She is also the editor of Trio Magazine...
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