I’m Sid, a common Sydney octopus. I live off Australia in an area nicknamed “Octopolis” by humans.
A whole bunch of us octopuses live in this sandy area. There’s this one octopus, let’s call him “George,” who tries to mate with me.
One day he was particularly persistent. My eggs weren’t ready for fertilizing that day, so I resisted his advances. But he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
So I threw silt at him using a stream of water from my siphon. My siphon is a wondrous contraption—it helps me move when I shoot a jet of water out of it, helps me excavate my den, get rid of waste (my own and food debris) and also get rid of unwanted males!
I shot water out of my siphon and aimed it towards the silt beneath me and voila! A sand storm was directed towards George.
But he wasn’t getting the picture. I sent more silt flying towards him once the current took away my first try.
I’ve got to hand it to him, he ducked at least four times and was successful at dodging on two. I hurled silt ten times and hit him on 5 occasions. After the tenth time, he finally got that I wasn’t interested.
George threw a shell out into the ocean in frustration. We octopuses don’t retaliate (shh! at least the humans haven’t seen us do that!).
But here’s the exciting news about octopuses throwing things and targeting one another. Only a “handful” of other species, including chimpanzees, actually target individuals of the same species.
Not bad company for a mere invertebrate, huh? We only make up 97% of all animals…
Hello my name is Ollie the Octopus. Unlike my counterpart featured in the Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” I have a name. I’m male though, and she was female—she laid eggs at the end of her life. While I wouldn’t have minded mating with her, we live halfway around the world from each other—her off of the South Africa coast, and me off of the California coast off of the USA.
We’re not villains!
So what does an octopus think of a documentary? Well, I’ve never watched TV, so I can only speak through my human translator (or is she an octopus translator?). I’m just glad we octopuses are not just thought of as villains (see Ursula in the Little Mermaid), food (octopus bowls in Japanese restaurants) or as slimy, disgusting creatures.
Octopuses are clever and intelligent!
We are now seen as the clever, intelligent and incredible creatures that we are, woo hoo! From what I’m told, some humans were horrified or disappointed that Craig Foster didn’t try and save his octopus teacher from a shark attack. He didn’t want to mess with nature.
Messing with nature?
But he did. He permanently scared her from one den at the beginning of their “friendship,” and continually put her life in possible danger when interacting with her. And especially when taking her to the surface when he took a much-needed breath of fresh air, he was exposing her to possible predators.
Changing natural behaviors?
But that she decided to interact with Craig at all was her decision. She could have stayed hidden and there would have been no documentary. Having her life permanently captured digitally was well worth any risk to her life. Did it change any of her natural behaviors? It did, but the time Craig spent with her was small in comparison to the time she spent being “wild.”
Octopuses love enrichment!
You wouldn’t have empathy for me otherwise, nor would you like to hear about how octopuses in captivity solve puzzles and open jars and boxes for food. Or how we “play” with objects in our tank (placing an object in the stream of water in our tank over and over).
We’re, um, cannibals
But you probably didn’t know that we can be cannibals, which I think makes octopus farming a tricky and controversial venture. Not to mention how it complicates the mating game!
We’re camouflaging machines!
We camouflage out of instinct—we’re color blind—but use our wits not to get eaten. We can change color, texture and shape. After all, we’re just a boneless protein snack to any mouth larger than us!
We octopuses are often compared to alien beings. Why humans continue to search for life in space when 95% of the ocean is unexplored by humans or ROV’s (remotely operated vehicles) is beyond me. Octopuses have been eaten forever, yet true empathy for us took until this documentary. What other wonders do the oceans hold for humans?
You can help!
So what can you do for the ocean? Well, less than one digit % of all donations to nonprofits go to ocean conservation charities. Check Charity Navigator for a reputable nonprofit to donate to. A good one is Craig Foster’s nonprofit Sea Change Project and the Sea Save Foundation (My human volunteered there!)
Thanks for reading My Octopus Teacher review. Do you have any questions for me? I’ll answer them in any future blog posts.
Congratulations to My Octopus Teacher for winning many international awards, including the BAFTA for best documentary. Good luck at the Academy Awards!
With recent news that the cleaner wrasse might have mirror self-recognition (MSR), I thought I’d write about the ocean animals that have MSR. Bottlenose dolphins and killer whales have MSR for certain. Possible mirror self-recognition ocean animals include manta rays and cleaner wrasses. Ocean animal that failed the mirror self-recognition test is the octopus.
So what is self-recognition? With a mirror, self-aware animals such as chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins recognize themselves and don’t react as if the image is another animal of the same species. Some animals that don’t have self-recognition react to their image in a mirror with aggression or other more positive social behaviors.
The mirror self-recognition test is when a human researcher places a mark somewhere conspicuous on a captive animal. With human babies, they place a paint mark on their foreheads. Starting at 18 months, human babies investigate the mark when they see themselves in a mirror.
Then the researchers place the test animal in front of a mirror and judge from their actions (usually curiosity) if they recognize themselves or not. Here are some examples from the ocean:
• Bottlenose dolphins in captivity react to a mirror image by “opening their mouths, sticking out their tongues and showing novel behaviors.” When marked, they investigate the mark on their bodies by moving the marked area towards the mirror.
• Killer whales in captivity were shown themselves unmarked in a mirror. Then they were marked. The whales behaved like they expected their appearance to be altered. This showed that they have self-recognition.
• Manta rays possibly show mirror self-recognition. When captive manta rays had a mirror placed in their tank, they blew bubbles, which they normally don’t do. They also appeared to investigate their image in the mirror by turning their belly towards the mirror and swimming by the mirror repeatedly.
• Cleaner wrasses were injected with a mark, which is how scientists mark fish in their studies. When their throats were marked and a mirror placed in their tank, the cleaner wrasses would rub their throats against the tank. Throat rubbing is not behavior seen in wild cleaner wrasses. When the mirror wasn’t in the tank, the wrasses didn’t rub. So seeing the mark in the mirror caused the throat rubbing and hence cleaner wrasses possibly have self-recognition.
As a side note, the inventor of the mirror self-recognition test, Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York, doesn’t think cleaner wrasses have self-recognition and that the study was flawed. What do you think?
• Octopuses haven’t passed the mirror test, but in studies they do orient themselves towards the mirror. Octopuses rely on their sense of touch and don’t rely on vision as much as mammals do, so it makes sense they don’t show mirror self-recognition.
On a personal note, I have dived with manta rays off the coast of Hawaii. I looked them in the eye and saw straight into their soul. It was no different than looking into a dog or cat’s eyes. I knew something was going on behind them. I don’t doubt that manta rays are thinking beings and that they may be self-aware.