Thursday, December 3, 2009

Octopus Hugs

I heard a really lovely story not too long ago. This is second, maybe even third hand (how fitting!), so I may not have all the details quite right. If not, I apologize in advance.

What happened is this:
Large Red Octopus ArtTile from Choose2BHappy 

At any one time, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has two Giant red octopus on display. Each in their own, neighboring tanks. These octopus live about five years. They are one of the largest octopus species known: the ones in the Monterey Bay grow to have an arm span of 15 feet, which is plenty big enough, but the biggest specimen ever measured was more than twice that big, with an arm span over 32 feet wide.

Giant octopus are highly intelligent animals. In captivity they often form attachments to the aquarists who feed and care for them. The octopus can distinguish and recognize individual aquarists within two seconds of touching their skin with the sensitive tip of a tentacle.

A couple of months ago, it was time for one of the octopus, a large female, to be released back into the Bay.

She’d grown close to a particular aquarist (we’ll call her Sam), who was chosen to be the person to release her. Sam took the octopus out on the Bay and dove down into the water with her. At the appropriate depth, she opened the container and the octopus swam free.

The animal clearly understood what was happening to her. She “hung around” in the water near Sam for a few minutes.

As if to say goodbye.

Then she swam away and disappeared.

Sam went on about her business, doing whatever it is the aquarists do out there, examining, and measuring, counting and collecting. I’d guess for half an hour or so, maybe longer. And was probably a little sad. Or at least had mixed feelings: sad to see the octopus go, and glad that she’d been released to live out the remainder of her life in the wild.

When she was done with whatever her tasks were for that dive, Sam swam back in the direction of the boat and prepared to ascend.

And suddenly the octopus appeared again, swimming toward her.

This creature, who she’d tended for several years, and who she’d released to swim free in the vast depths of the Monterey Bay, came back.

The octopus swam right up to Sam, gently wound one long tentacle up and around her arm and, very gently, squeezed.

Once, twice, three times.

Then she slowly withdrew her tentacle, looked Sam in the eye one last time, and swam away.