Octopus dream time: under water magic in Bonaire
April 18, 2021
After a wonderful first dive on the island Bonaire, my buddies and I want to take off after our safety stop. The side slopes gradually and just before I want to put my feet down, I spot a huge octopus.
We still have plenty of air in our tanks so I lower myself slightly. The octopus remains relaxed. I swim around him to hang right in front of him. Calmly and unbothered he stays in front of his den and doesn’t flinch when I shoot him from all sides. Very slowly and cautiously, I keep getting closer and closer. I have never met such a relaxed octopus. I take a closer look at his den and then I see a pair of eyes peering out. There is another octopus inside! Every now and then she pokes out a curious eye, but this octopus decides to stay safe in her den. In the meantime I have plenty of time to take a close look at the serene male. His horizontal pupils and his convex head, his special body and many tentacles. I can hang like this for hours and just watch and wonder!
It makes me so happy every time I meet an octopus during a dive. I wrote about these special creatures before. About their three hearts, their blue blood and deadly sex. Octopuses fascinate me. We plan our next dive at this same point, the same entrance and then explore the reef in the other direction. I hope the octopuses will still be there when we come back in an hour. After all, a person never has too many octopus pictures. I can’t wait to get back into the water and the surface interval feels like forever. As soon as I put my head under water, I feel disappointment. The octopus is no longer in front of its den. I swim to the entrance and peer inside. Two prying eyes stare back. Octopuses are very curious about toys and gadgets. What I like most about them is that they collect treasures. They collect things to use as tools, but they also create nice homes for themselves with all kind of ornaments like shells and seaweed. Sometimes they even built a fortress in order to camouflage and protect themselves.
I decide to look for a beautiful shell to give to the octopus. I have used that trick before in Egypt. Then I managed to lure an octopus out by offering shiny shells. I find a conch and put it just in front of the den. Immediately a tentacle shoots out and in a split second the shell is gone. My buddies want to continue exploring the reef, so with regret I leave the octopuses behind, hoping we can spend some time together just before we leave the water.
At the end of the dive, I put another shiny shell in front of the den. One eye looks out, followed by a tentacle and the shell is gone. A few seconds later, the shell is thrown out again. Clearly this gift is not appreciated! How wonderful it is to witness the curiosity and personality of octopuses.
Later that week I am lucky again. I have another memorable octopus encounter. On Klein Bonaire, at dive site Mi Dushi, I discover an octopus during the safety stop. He sits unprotected in the middle of the sandy bottom. I calmly swim in his direction. Of course he sees me too and immediately changes color, shape and texture. Fascinating to watch: the ability to camouflage themself. An octopus can change color to hide and match his surroundings. And the amazing thing is that the octopus not only can change his color and pattern, he is also capable of changing his skin texture in order to imitate his background.
But the octopus goes even further: he can use mimicry. Mimicry works a bit differently from camouflage. It allows the octopus to mimic the shape of other ocean animals in order to trick potential predators or prey into thinking it is a different animal species. When camouflage doesn’t work an octopus may release a jet of dark ink in the direction of his predator. This ink blinds the enemy and dulls the attackers sense of smell and tast so it’s almost impossible to locate to fleeing octopus. Besides this technique the octopus also has a poison that allows him to weaken and immobilize their prey or predator. Only the blue ringed octopus has a poison that is dangerous to humans.
The octopus at Mi Dushi is more shy then my first octopus, the male in front of his den. I keep my distance because I don’t want to make him feel threatened. Yet, he is aware of my presence. Suddenly he drops off and launches himself from his spot. I manage to capture this jump on film and in this short film you can see the white octopus turning brown and then white again. It lands among a sea plant and immediately its body takes on a different shape, color and texture. The photos below were taken in quick succession and show the color difference. Whenever I meet an octopus, I am amazed and I feel so grateful. They look like animals from another time and world. Octopuses are truly magical and the underwater world is a world full of wonders and I feel so privileged to be a part of it.