The abuse of octopus in Hawaii for photographs is very common. I was actually the person who confronted this photographer on social media about his method of achieving this photo. With the help of Adam, the photo was removed from Padi's website and the wetpixel Facebook page. It was a very popular image, and the photographer continues to profit from it. Though it is clearly in violation of the ethical standards we as photographers should be setting for the dive community.
I think octopus abuse continues in Hawaii because of how quickly unknown photographers get attention for posting these photos on instagram and other social media outlets. A characteristic that most of these octopus pics have in common is a whitish and speckled coloration of distress shown in the octopus. Of course seeing an octopus at the surface or clinging to a leg of a model is also a dead giveaway. I live in Hawaii and dive all the time and have never seen an octopus at the surface or swimming through the water column. The common Day Octopus is found hiding in coral rubble mostly, or occasionally along the seafloor hunting. An octopus is a master of camouflage which helps it hunt and hide, so it is much more at home in the sand or rubble. I suppose it is possible for common reef octopus to hunt in the water column but I would also assume that this is very rare, and risky, as it could easily be picked off by faster swimming predators
Which leads me to another photograph that may be ethically questionable. I have noticed this same white coloration in the octopus picture that won Photographer of the Year at UPY London last year. To me, the octopus looks distressed, is in an unnatural position and is flailing arms just like the ones that I see so commonly from Hawaii photographers. I looked at the Instagram account of the photographer who won the competition and have noticed that the octopus is at the surface in many of the photographs. I do realize the photograph was taken in shallow water, but I have also observed octopus in shallow water, but have never observed this behavior.
I lived near a shallow bay in Guam for 5 years where I would commonly see octopus in the shallows. Occasionally I saw them quickly flee from a position that might be compromising to their safety but soon they settled back into the coral rubble. They never approached the surface. Never hunted by "dancing" with arms flailed. Another pic shows tentacles attached to the dome port of the camera, which I could understand if the octopus might be curious, but this octopus does not look curious. Another pic shows the octopus inking in defense, which is clearly an escape tactic to evade predators. Another shows an arm missing, (possibly ripped off?). It is in my opinion that the octopus appears to be in distress and is trying to flee the photographer rather than "hunting" like judges have concluded.
This is hard to bring up because I know this sort of thing can be damaging to a photographers reputation, but I am tired of seeing this reckless behavior for the sake of contests or "likes"in social media. And I may be off base here, I hope I am. But It would be good to hear what Alex Mustard and/or the other judges of the UPY contest can contribute on the topic. I assume the judges have the best interest of the marine environment in mind and would not promote photography that compromises it, and I also assume the judges asked the photographer if the photo in question was taken without harassment to the animal. If so, great. And if the photo was taken without harassment, even better. But I think the evidence on the photographers Instagram account and website is questionable.
In Hawaii Octopus are pulled out for the coral rubble and tossed into the water column for photographs. The same method is used by fisherman to catch and kill octopus for food, sometimes these fisherman are the photographers and sometimes the fisherman do this for photographers. But the point needs to be distinguished that this behavior is not ethical in regards to photographing our fragile marine environment. If this photograph was taken with considerable harassment to the animal I don't think that it should place in a contest, and certainly not win a contest entitled "Photographer of the Year" There have been many copycat photographers in Hawaii in regards to the harassment of octopus for photos and the trend continues because of the popularity of the photographs.
Here is a link to the photographer's website where he displays other photographs from the shoot: