A swim in the sea with an inquisitive octopus

When holidaymaker Dave Musgrove ventured down to the coast, he stumbled across a curious cephalopod.

Common octopus sitting among the rocks. © Dave Musgrove

Once I caught a common octopus in a rockpool. I was amazed when a black shape under a ledge morphed into a mass of tentacles and crawled, very obligingly, into my cheap net. After I’d received accolades from my family for such a remarkable find, I released it and watched it slip silently back underwater.

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Three years later, I returned to the same rocky foreshore in Costa Blanca, Spain. I couldn’t believe it when, while swimming in the clear shallows, I saw an octopus resting on the pebbled floor. I jumped out of the sea and blundered over boulders to get closer, expecting it to retreat at my advance.

Yet while I stood barefoot in a few centimetres of water, the octopus did not disappear, but rolled over the rocks right up to me. It extended a tentacle towards my toes, which I quickly retracted. The creature wasn’t fazed by my nervous disposition, but lay in the water directly beneath me, gently pulsing through a range of hues, from granite-grey through to mottled-white, rusty-brown and ruby-red.

Seeing as it didn’t seem to be going anywhere, I figured one of us had to make a move, so I left. Ten minutes later, I wandered back to the same spot and saw the octopus a few metres from the shore. Once more, as I stood right on the edge of the water, the creature approached.

It rested in the extreme shallows, and this time I stuck one finger into the sea. It quickly sent out a tentacle and we joined appendages. The sensation of sucker on skin is a remarkable thing. I pulled my finger away, dipped it in again, and once more we communed. I was sure not to let it drag my hand towards its body, which I think was its ambition.

Romantic sentiment encourages me to hope it was the same creature that I caught and released, but octopus behavioural expert Dr Stefan Linquist of the University of Guelph, Canada, tells me that’s unlikely, given the average three-year lifespan of the common octopus.

He reckons it may have been a foraging site and the octopus might have been in the habit of checking out novel potential prey items. Though I escaped the tentacles, it’s an experience that will certainly stick with me.


Main image: Common octopus sitting among the rocks. © Dave Musgrove

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This Tale From The Bush originally appeared in BBC Wildlife Magazine. Take a look inside the issue and find out how to subscribe.