Meeting an Octopus

Ever since I watched the film My Octopus Teacher, I’ve been dreaming of meeting an octopus. Last week, it finally happened!

Here’s how it happened:

I went for a hike to a beautiful rocky bay on the Mediterranean Coast (in northern Catalonia).

I wasn’t planning to go for a swim that day, but once I came up to this super calm, crystal clear bay and realized that I was all alone, I couldn’t help but go for a little skinny dip. The water was a chilly 14°C (57°F) and the air temperature was about the same, so I didn’t swim for long. I dunked in a few times, then ran out of the water and started drying myself with a T-shirt.

Then, as soon as I looked back at the water, I noticed an octopus! He was very close to the shore and it seemed like he was staring at me from within the water. I moved closer to the water and he moved next to a rock, closer to me.

I knew that octopuses were pretty smart and curious, so I carefully stepped into the water to see what he would do. Surprisingly, he pulled out one of his eight arms and started feeling my foot with it! Pretty soon, he pulled out another arm and tried to latch onto my foot!

I was shocked by this behavior so I squealed and quickly backed away. As I did this, he squirted a jet of water at me and backed up, but then came closer to me again!

You can see all of this in the video above. The exact moment of squirting is here.

After a few moments of staring at me with his body partially out of the water, he swam behind a rock about a meter away from the shore.

I remembered some diving friends telling me that octopuses are attracted to shiny objects, so I walked over to him with my trekking pole, then stuck it in the water next to him. He seemed to be curious about it. He wrapped his arm around the pole, as you can see here:

After this, I waved my underwear around him :D (my diving friends also said that octpuses are attracted to white cloths- not sure if that’s true). He didn’t seem too interested in my underwear, but he was interested in my foot.

Once I got the underwear out of the way, he grabbed my foot again! He did this a few times, first touching me with one arm, then quickly latching onto me with several arms and pulling my foot towards him.

Again, I was shocked by this behavior. I was also surprised how strong this little octopus was and how weird his suckers felt on my foot! I knew that octopuses have a beak in the middle of all those arms, so I was afraid that he could bite me. I backed up whenever he grabbed me, then he backed up too, but he didn’t swim away from me for a while! I hung out with him for almost hour before he swam away!

The Next Few Days

I came back to this bay the next day to see if I could find him, but I only found jellyfish :(.

On day 3, there were even more jellyfish! I went into the water anyway and looked around for him, but there was no sign.

I had to skip day 4, but I came back to the bay with some friends on day 5.

Surprisingly, I spotted him straight away! The water was calm and crystal clear again, the jellyfish were gone, and the octopus was sitting in a very shallow spot right next to the shore.

He seemed to notice us too. We stared at each other for a few minutes, then I moved away to put my backpack down on a rock. As I moved away, he leaped towards me, almost out of the water!

After this, I put my foot into the water and he pretty quickly started feeling it up again! He also grabbed onto my friend Georgie’s foot, but he didn’t seem to like Tio’s foot :).

We interacted with the octopus for a while, then we noticed two more octopuses in the same shallow bay! Both of the other octopuses were redder and a little smaller than our friend.

Once our octopus noticed the other octopuses, he swam towards them, then they stared each other down from behind two rocks.

I told our octopus not to mate with the other two, but he didn’t get my message :(.  You see, octopuses have a tragic lifecycle. They grow up fast, they live short lives (1-2 years for common octopuses), they mate, and then they die after mating. And I’m not sure if the mating is even enjoyable for them :D The male octopus keeps sperm in pockets in his third right arm, when they mate, he simply injects these pockets into the female. Sometimes, he gives the female his arm, and sometimes the female tries to eat him.

I’m not an octopus expert so I don’t know if these octopuses got it on after we left the bay, but it seemed a bit suspicious to see three octopuses actively roaming around this shallow bay (where I’ve snorkeled many times and have never seen octopuses roaming around).

I came back to the bay on day 6 and noticed one smaller, redder octopus sitting behind a rock, not moving much. This one wasn’t curious about me or my foot.

I swam around the bay and noticed another octopus underneath a rock. This one was the same size as my friend, so I was sure that it was him.

I got excited and put my foot next to him, but he didn’t react. Then I had a closer look at him and realized that he was very white, he wasn’t moving, and he was in a very weird position with his arms dangling by his head.

I was sure that this octopus was dead, but now I was hoping that this wasn’t my octopus friend. To be sure, I needed to examine his body (I’d be able to tell because my octopus friend had one missing limb).

I grabbed a stick and tried to move his body, but as I did this, the octopus moved, so he was still alive. As he moved, I think I did notice that missing limb, so most likely this was my octopus friend :(.

I backed away from him and left the bay.

I came back the next day to see if I could find the dead body and confirm that I really did see this missing limb (and also to examine the body to see if he really was a male). I dunked my head underwater and saw his body outside of the rock shelter, swaying with the water current, still breathing, but barely alive.

I didn’t want to disturb him, so I left.

Sad story, I know :(

Unfortunately, death is an inevitable part of life, so we just have to accept and embrace this.

Make the most of your own life because even you, human, will never know if the next time you “mate” will be the last time ;).

Update (29/04)

I WAS WRONG!!! :)  I came back to the bay today and saw my octopus friend alive and well! He was swimming around, changing colors splendidly, and sitting behind rocks. I could tell that it was him because of his missing limb.

So I guess that “dying” octopus was either a different octopus or my whole projection about what was going on was wrong. Maybe that octopus wasn’t dying at all, maybe those octopuses didn’t get it on after all, maybe HE is not even a he but a SHE! I honestly have no idea, but I’ll continue learning about these creatures and going back to the bay to observe them- I wish I had more time for this!

Also, another amazing thing happened after I saw my octopus friend- I went for a swim and when I came out of the water, I saw a much smaller octopus right next to me.

This tiny octopus also looked like he/she was observing me, so I came over to her (I’ll just name it a her- I don’t know :D) and I put my foot down next to her. Then she did the same thing that the other octopus did!!!!! She felt up my foot, then grabbed it, pulled it, and dragged it along the sea floor! Look:

I honestly have no idea what the hell is going on with these octopuses. I’m confused. Confused and very happy :)

More Updates (June, 2021)

I’ve been coming back to this bay several times a week for the past 2-3 months to get to know these creatures better :).

Before, I assumed that seeing octopuses actively roaming around this shallow bay was a rare sight, but it turns out that I was wrong about that too. Either there were fewer octopuses here before or (probably) I was just much less observant. Now, I can find at least one octopus pretty much every time I come back to the bay.

And now, I’ve figured out that there are three octopuses that like human feet! :D

I’ve named them: Bracu (the first Brave and Curious octopus that I came across), Pichoroush (the second little octopus that grabbed my foot), and Tinie (another small octopus that I’ve gotten to know). It’s hard to tell if they’re male or female (you have to closely examine their third right arm to see if they have suckers all the way to the tip- if they’re missing some suckers, then they’re a male). So since I haven’t been able to figure this out yet, I’ve randomly assigned them genders :D. I assume that Bracu is a male and Picho and Tinie are female.

Bracu

Pichoroush

Tinie

I can tell them apart because Bracu is larger than the other two octopuses and all three of them have missing limbs. Bracu is missing a good portion of his second left limb (but it’s already starting to grow back), Pichoroush is missing most of her third left limb, and Tinie is missing a smaller portion of her second left limb as well as a bit of her fourth right limb. Most octopuses found in the wild have missing limbs, but amazingly, they are able to fully re-grow their limbs!

So, after I realized that Bracu was alive and well + Picho was interested in human feet, I came back to the bay almost every day. After a few encounters with Bracu, he seemed to lose interest in humans so he rarely showed up to interact with us, but Pichoroush came out a couple of more times (once fiercly grabbing onto our GoPro), and then I met an amazing octopus named Tinie!

This was my first encounter with Tinie. Look how precious she is! :)

A couple of days later, I spotted Tinie in the same shallow area. She felt up my foot again, a bit hesitantly, then grabbed my hand and tried to pull me into the water! :D

For a while, I was a bit hesitant to let her grab my entire foot for more than a few seconds, but after doing some research and learning that it would be very unlikely that she could do any serious harm to me, even if she bit me, I decided to go for it.

Here, I gave Tinie my entire foot:

She grabbed onto my foot with a lot of force (and she is very strong), then she gently felt it up with her suckers. I could feel her suckers feeling (and perhaps tasting) in between my toes. Then when she had a good grip of my entire foot, she gently nibbled it a little bit with her beak. It felt like a parrot nibbling on your skin.

I found out where her den is, so a few days later, I came back to the bay and walked up to her den, then to my surprise, she jumped out as soon as she saw me and went straight for my foot!

This day, she also grabbed my hand and tried to drag me into her den :)

(The end of that video is shaky because I was very cold)

I came back the next day and look how quickly she came out to see me! :D I think she pooped on me in this video:

Then Tio filmed me swimming with Tinie. You can see how strong she is in the following video, since she’s holding me with just a few suckers while the current is pushing me around left and right.

At the end of that day, we noticed another octopus (probably Bracu) staring down Tinie as she grabbed onto our feet. He got behind her without her noticing, then he jumped on her and attacked her!

Luckily, Tinie got away from him and all of her remaining limbs are still in place.

For the next week or two, Tinie didn’t come out of her den when I came to visit her, but eventually she did come around and grab my foot again, but more hesitantly.

Unfortunately my octopus experience will end here for now. Next week I plan to take off on a big trek across the Pyrenees Mountains and I will probably be away from this bay for 2-4 months.

I really hope these octopuses will still be here when I come back!  :)

2 thoughts on “Meeting an Octopus

  1. Awww that was nice. I had a giggle when the octopus touched your foot and you shrieked. 😉 You’re a hero for swimming in 14ºC water!
    Shame about the lifespan of an octopus but I guess that’s what happens in nature.
    Thank you for sharing this little gem.

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