Tuesday, September 8, 2020

For me this is the year of the Octopus

Of course it really is the year of the Covid-19 pandemic and we all have had life changed forever. and coping has been ongoing.  On a personal level I woke up to the glory of nature.  Earlier (maybe even last year) read that an octopus is a sentient being, meaning not only that they are intelligent, but possess emotions.  Separately I was impressed by a post demonstrating how an octopus could go through complicated barriers.  

 My local library offered a DVD (before the shutdown) and it turned out to be very interesting.  "Octopus:  Making Contact" which originally was on the "Nature" program seen on PBS network.  It swung around a University of Alaska professor, Dr. David Scheel who had decided to build a big fish tank at home to house an octopus.  He pointed out that some people see the octopus as an alien being and we might profit by studying it before we have to deal with actual aliens.  We may have a common ancestor, but it was so far gone that essentially the octopus traveled a different evolutionary path than humans.  We saw demonstrations of color changing and then many signs of unexpected intelligence.  In his time off the professor traveled to different locations I believe one was near Madagascar and another off Australia.  He and his daughter both interacted with the octopus in their home aquarium.

A real mind opener was "My Octopus Teacher" made available by Netflix.  Craig Foster, film maker who was said to be burnt out had retreated to one of his boyhood passions which was underwater exploring.  He lived near a kelp forest off the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Town, South Africa.  To get closer to the marine life he decided to not use a wet suit or tank resulting in limited underwater time.  Eventually he noticed an unusual movement by what turned out to be an octopus.  It took awhile to build up trust, but the octopus accepted Craig  and they had physical contact.  We were shown how easily an octopus can change not only color, but also shape and texture.  Further than that Craig was able to provide examples of real strategic thinking, including one where the octopus used Craig's body to trap a prey.  Over the years Craig had accumulated hours of film.  


At one point he showed some of his film to Pippa Ehrlich, a diving partner.  She had been raised in Johannesburg, became a natural history film maker and an award winning environmental journalist.  She was excited and made efforts to raise money and organize.  They brought in camera people (including herself) to supplement Craig's original film.  She brought in an experienced producer, James Reed to set up the interview with Craig that provides the narrative for the film.  James had won awards for a an underwater film, "Jago:  A Life Underwater."

The cinematography is stunning and includes some very intimate scenes between Craig and the octopus.  Craig had several years of film from the kelp forest which on its own is a very unique environment.  Kevin Smuts, another South African with experience in many documentaries and commercials provided music that supported the many mood changes in the film.

Craig Foster started out thinking he was a visitor, but came to realize we are all part of nature.   A few years ago I discovered calamari tasted better than expected, but after this year I will not be eating any more.

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