It hasn’t been seen in Strangford Lough for 30 years — and it could be another 30 before it’s spotted again.
Scientists probing the shores of the lough found a tiny cuttlefish not seen since the 1980s, so they decided to hand it to the aquarium at Exploris in Portaferry.
But the intrepid cephalopod made a daring Great Escape, squeezing its way down the drain of the tank where it was being held — and vanished without trace once more into the waters of Strangford Lough.
Dr Julia Sigwart, director of Queen’s University Marine lab at Portaferry, said the Houdini-like cuttlefish was captured by an undergraduate student.
The animals are reasonably common along Northern Ireland’s more exposed coasts but haven’t been seen in Strangford Lough since the 1980s — until now.
“They’re called Sepiola atlantica, the little cuttlefish. There were records of them from the late 1980s but the Aquarium at Exploris weren’t sure whether they were still in Strangford Lough,” she said.
“You wouldn't normally get them stranded in a rockpool — they’re normally in deeper waters — but this one was found in water under a rock.
“It was found by one of my undergraduate honours students while doing fieldwork for final year marine biology.
“They were out very early on Sunday morning and were planning on taking it to the aquarium on Monday — it was being kept in a seawater aquarium in the main lab. It’s like a trough on legs with smaller aquaria that sit in it and sea water is pumped in and out from Strangford Lough.
“He probably escaped down the drain and back into the lough. They can get through surprisingly small holes although they are limited by the cuttlebone inside.”
Cuttlefish prey on small crustaceans, Dr Sigwart said. “They can change the colour and even the texture of their skin to look like a rock or like seaweed on an extremely convincing way.”