My Teacher's Octopus
Updated: Jan 9
Last October, after just the four years of searching, I was lucky enough to experience an encounter with a curled octopus (also known as the lesser or horned octopus) Eledone cirrhosa.
Of the two species of octopus in the British Isles, the curled octopus is more frequently encountered than the larger octopus vulgaris, the latter being in its northernmost range along the southern coast of England, despite being known as the 'common' octopus. Both species have been spotted by divers over the past four years (and no doubt before) in Chesil Cove and the waters that surround Portland, Dorset. This certainly fuelled my desire to keep looking, year after year.
I nearly mistook 'my' octopus for a cuttlefish at first, as they're a much more frequent sight along the south coast. I guess it was the raised eyes that made me realise what in fact I was looking at. She (or he, they're difficult to sex from a distance) didn't stay long, unfurling her arms and jetting off after about thirty seconds or so, once she was certain she had indeed been spotted. Squealing through my regulator in excitement may have given the game away. I didn't mind though, I'd managed to get a few serviceable shots off, and it was all over at last.
It's strange the things we choose to become obsessive over, I mean, I've seen several common octopuses diving in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, but the challenge of finding and recording one in this country had long gnawed at me. I did feel a palpable sense of relief ticking it off my 'British marine bucket list', alongside the elation of having finally attained the cherished goal.
Octopuses being like buses, I was actually treated to an (even briefer) sighting a month later. The second was perched just on top of her boulder den, perhaps looking for potential food or suitors, and darted down into her cave as soon as I drifted near. I was presented with that magnificent black bar of an eye, and nothing else, as I waited for ten minutes to see if she was interested in coming out. It wasn't to be, but once again I wasn't disappointed.
I can't help but wonder what other strange visitors and bizarre finds are waiting for us as the waters around the south coast continue to get warmer. Hopefully we'll all get the opportunity to find out before too long.