Swimming With Octopus

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Perhaps it’s because we’re experiencing a long stretch of heat, smoky air, and very dry weather. Perhaps it’s because few creatures might be interesting as octopuses. I paused a Netflix series I’m following and watched instead the newly-added documentary, “My Octopus Teacher”.

It took a creative team seven years to put together this video, filmed during a year in which a South African documentary cameraman swam daily in the ocean. His swimming routine began as a counter to his high burnout from overwork and deep feelings of alienation from work and family life. To “find himself”, he trained himself to swim in the very cold Atlantic, so cold it forced him to work hard and long before his body could adjust to the temperature. The effort took his mind off all else, until eventually he could slip easily into the ocean and swim.

During a daily swim, he discovered on the ocean floor a curious-looking rock, which turned out to be a young female octopus in disguise. He followed that octopus to her den, and in days afterwards, found her often. He became interested in studying her and engaged a fellow documentary cameraman to captured his swims with the animal. The camera beautifully captures over time how the swimmer and octopus develop a unique and lasting relationship.

We swim along, too, in that marine world where surrounding water brings senses of closeness and silence, deepening our comprehension of the enormous ocean-supported beauty and intelligence. Above all, we’re introduced to this octopus. We watch as she swims and plays, as she hunts and is hunted, when she becomes damaged and manages to recover, and then as she mates and finally gives birth.

It’s unique, this mutual trust between octopus and human. She can be seen wrapping her body around the swimmer’s hand and holding tightly so that together they may swim. The swimmer’s intense focus on the octopus leads more toward his healing from burnout from overwork. This truly is a love story.

Watching, I was fascinated, having wished to know more about octopuses. My scientific readings have described them as highly intelligent creatures. Some marine scientists who keep an octopus as a pet describe ways in which the creatures move, respond, interact, and interestingly also display emotions. Without having seen a real octopus, I couldn’t visualize one totally from written descriptions.

“My Octopus Teacher” shows a whole octopus–its physical dimensions, its ways of moving and of resting, its high intelligence, and its capacity for emotion. The video’s human does a masterful job of explaining his responses to her. He speaks to the relationship, and eventually after its ending, shares what more he’s come to understand.

Dear Friends: I recommend this hour-and-a-half video, it offers joy and learning. Diana

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