Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#SteveReviews: My Octopus Teacher

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to appreciate the positives in life. There has been a vast array of depressing news and I totally understand if it has overwhelmed some people. With this in mind, I was happy to see a documentary titled My Octopus Teacher on Netflix that had a number of positive reviews. This documentary-film follows the life of South African film-maker and naturalist Craig Foster who sets out to personally reconnect with nature following burn out with his work. To me this is as good a reason as any and a situation I imagine many can sympathise with.

In order to achieve his reconnection, Foster starts free-diving daily in the kelp forests off Cape Town. One of the great things that I love about Foster’s appreciation for the kelp forests is that he doesn’t see them to be any different as a woodland. They are just as vibrant and colourful, it’s just the medium as to where they occur that is different. Whilst exploring these kelp forests he comes across an assemblage of broken shells on the sea floor which he recognises as being a common octopus protecting itself from predators using a ‘shell suit’. From here, a personal relationship with the octopus is born and Foster returns daily to visit her world.

We understand so little about octopus behaviour and ecology that we often find new stuff whenever we look. This is the case for Foster who would rush home after a day’s diving and try to find out what he had seen, but fail. There is no doubt that some of the observations he made throughout this relationship with the octopus are new to science. My Octopus Teacher helps to provide an intimate view of what can only be described as a very alien to our own. At one point the octopus is attacked by a shark and loses a limb, which she later regrows. They’re also able to contort themselves to fit into a number of shapes and crevices to aid in finding prey, more tricks that we could never pull!

The intelligence of the octopus are also demonstrated first hand, through Foster’s experiences. The octopus is able to evade a pyjama shark by climbing on it’s back (something reminiscent of a rodeo), starts to change it’s colour and shape to match different surroundings and also finds new and creative ways to hunt for lobsters. Foster’s time with the octopus may have been fleeting (given their relatively short lifespan) but it is clear that the fascination and intrigue was mutual.

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