Let Nature take its course … or not?

I’m often in a quandary about whether to ‘save’ an animal in distress, but I usually do. Take this example.

It was a ‘king tide’ on the coast at the weekend – a combination of autumn equinox and full moon produced high high tides and low low ones. On the reef at Woody Head, the shells, sea urchins and so forth were doing their level best to keep hydrated – staying well within crevices if they were able, or hunkered down close to the rock surface in the case of chitons and limpets that don’t generally move so much.

I found two small dead octopuses and one that seemed to have a spark of life left.

Octopus stranded by the extra low tide

What to do? Leave it alone to die if the sea does not come back in time? If I wasn’t there, that’s what would happen. Pick it up and deposit it in the hope that it would recover? Maybe it was already too far gone, and maybe it was already at the end of its life cycle – male octopuses die within months of mating, and females die after their eggs hatch. (Three dead octopuses at once was a surprise, though.)

I decided to ‘interfere’, picked up the octopus with a flat rock and took it over to a pool that joined up with the sea. It waved its tentacles feebly, so I hoped it would recover. For the first 30 seconds or so, nothing happened – then it ‘unflattened’ and went white.

Octopus, pale and wan

Then, quite suddenly, it turned brown to match its background, inflated even more and started ‘gasping’ – its whole head was moving quickly and the orange siphon pumping away. Octopuses take in water via the mantle cavity, it runs over the gills, which extract the oxygen from the water, and the siphon pushes the ‘used’ water out.

You can see the orange siphon between the left tentacles and the head

Seeing the octopus apparently spring back to life, I felt good. Then it occurred to me that I, being part of Nature, was letting it take its course after all.

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2 Responses to Let Nature take its course … or not?

  1. Cath Clark says:

    Now that’s what I call photojournalism, and a happy ending to boot! Bill will like this story, he’s a big fan of octopi for their intelligence, and never eats calimari.

    • Me, too – it’d be like eating a friend. When I worked in the South Australian Museum in the Marine Invertebrate section, we had an octopus in the observation saltwater tank. It kept getting out, of course. After it died (they don’t live long), we never wanted to get another one. It had so much personality. We tried a tartan background on the back of tank to see how it would react, but it didn’t ever go tartan. 🙂

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