I’m sure you’ve all been asked for help by a sea creature at some time or other; who hasn’t right? I’m not sure how you handled it when it happened to you, but I’m not pleased about how I handled it when it happened to me. It went like this…
Several years ago I was visiting a sea life centre. As I rounded a corner, I saw a tank shaped like a cylinder on its end. To give you an idea of size, roughly, if I hugged my arms around it, my hands would be about one foot shy of meeting. Standing around the tank were a few kids, laughing and knocking on the glass.
As they moved away, I approached. Slumped in the bottom, looking lifeless, was a large octopus. Do you know much about octopuses? They are considered to be the most intelligent invertebrate out there (interesting octopus fact no.1). I knelt down and looked into his eyes. Take it from me these were very sad eyes. A huge rush of sympathy surged through me; this poor creature was in a tank that wasn’t even big enough for it to extend its arms properly. The largest octopuses have a maximum arm span of 9m, and weigh up to 270kg (interesting octopus fact no.2), and furthermore there was nowhere for him to hide from the hoards of prying eyes, no plants, nothing. Octopuses have the ability to change their colour, pattern, and texture to match their surroundings in order to hide from predators (interesting octopus fact no.3), but even that skill wasn’t going to help him here. This is how they do it in the wild, please watch, it’s very cool:
The octopus felt my sympathy, I’m telling you he felt it. Octopuses have three hearts, did you know that? (interesting octopus fact no.4). He came to life, rose up from the bottom, locked eyes with me and waved his arms as best he could in that limited space. And we connected, I’ve never felt such a strong connection with an animal before. It was hypnotic, I felt overwhelmed by emotion. It was like I could feel his pain, and he was saying “Yes, yes, you understand my plight, please help me.” I moved around the tank a couple of times, and he moved with me, keeping his eyes locked with mine.
I wanted to help him, but what could I do? There was only one choice. Carefully, I lifted the top off the tank, reached in, and using all my strength I hoisted him out of the water. That was one heavy octopus I can tell you, and I ran, I ran out of the sea life centre and across the road to the sea and threw him in. Ok, no, I didn’t do that, but I played that scenario in my head as a possibility and clearly had to discount it. Although if I had done it, he might have been able to help me because octopuses are able to solve problems, such as opening jars to reach prey (interesting octopus fact no.5). Instead I grabbed a chain and padlock and chained myself to the tank and then shouted over and over that I would not be moved until this octopus was saved! Again, no, I didn’t do that either. Actually what I did was walk away.
I told myself I would do something about it. Coincidentally, as we left the sea life centre, there was a group of people outside with placards protesting about the conditions that some of the sea creatures were being kept in. Apparently they had been there when we went in, only I hadn’t noticed them then. I recounted my observations to them and signed their petition, and told myself that I had indeed done something about helping my octopus friend. But deep down I knew it was a cop-out. I’d signed my name on a piece of paper. Big deal. Basically I didn’t do anything. And I still feel bad about it.
Octopuses live for one to two years in the wild (interesting octopus fact no.6), so I’m guessing it’s too late for me to help that guy. I’m very sorry I didn’t do more to help you little fella. And while we’re at it, I’m sorry if I’ve ever eaten any of your relatives in a paella.
I can’t help him, but maybe I can do something to help octopuses in general. I could adopt an octopus or I maybe I could help save the Pacific Northwest tree octopus. But I think the most important thing I can do is learn from it, and the transferable lesson I take forward is….
Signing your name on a bit of paper doesn’t cut it, when an octopus asks for your help.