When a family on vacation spotted a beached octopus, they naturally stepped up to help it. And after returning the creature to the sea where it belonged, they thought their good deed for the day was over. Yet when they arrived on the same beach the next day, the octopus was back – and its reaction to the family’s return was astonishing.
In 2014 YouTube user Helena was vacationing with her family in Soma Bay near the Red Sea. Like people do on so many other getaways, they were spending time on a quiet, empty beach. Suddenly, though, they spotted an octopus stranded on the sand, struggling to survive. The octopus appeared to be losing moisture and close to death – so they jumped into action to save his life.
The caring family pushed the poor creature back to the sea, hoping the water would revive it. For some time, they were unsure whether their efforts had helped. Then finally, after the animal had recovered from its ordeal, it swam away into deeper water. With the octopus disappearing, then, the family believed they would never see it again.
The next day, though, the vacationers decided to return to the same beach for a stroll along the sand. And as they walked down the shore, they noticed a shadow slowly approaching them along the water’s edge. To begin with, they did not know what it was. But as it got closer, they realized it was an octopus.
In fact, it was the same octopus that they had saved just a day earlier. And if they were surprised to see it again, they were even more surprised that the creature appeared to recognize them too. Indeed, the squishy little fellow even followed them as they continued along the seashore.
Continuing to follow the family, the octopus stayed with them for about an hour. The group, shocked by this behavior, captured the moment on camera, and Helena later shared the video on YouTube. The most amazing things that the video showed were the way the octopus followed them and the interaction it attempted with the family. Yes, the octopus seemed to attempt to express its gratitude to them in the only way it knew how: by trying the touch their feet with its outstretched tentacles.
After such an extraordinary experience with the octopus, the family stated, “We were sure that this octopus just came back to say thank you for saving his life. It’s amazing how intelligent animals are.” It seems, then, that their gesture of goodwill saved the octopus’ life and created a unique connection between people and sea creature.
It turns out that the family even named the octopus Kurt after becoming so attached to it. What’s more, the family have also made a promise to themselves. In their video, they stated, “We will never eat octopus again.”
Although this strange behavior from Kurt the octopus may seem out of the ordinary, this case is not the first in which an octopus has seemingly thanked its rescuer. Indeed, in 2013 YouTube user Pei Yan Heng uploaded her similarly weird and wonderful rescue experience to the video-sharing site.
You see, Heng was visiting the Cyrene Reef, Singapore, when – like Helena and her family – she noticed an octopus. It, like Kurt, was dying as it lay stranded on the beach. Believing it had gotten stuck on the sand when the tide went back out, Heng realized that it would need help getting back to where the water’s edge now was.
Scooping the creature up in a clear plastic cup, Heng then carried the octopus to the shallow waves. Gently placing the container in the water, she waited patiently for the creature to find the courage to return to the sea. Heng slightly tipped the creature’s temporary plastic home, and it finally slid out.
Once returned safely to its ocean home, the octopus took some time to recover. Eventually, though, the animal was revived and ready to swim away. But not, of course, before it thanked its rescuer. And, like Kurt and its saviors, this octopus appeared to use its tentacles to show its gratitude. Indeed, the animal swam towards Heng’s left boot before resting one, sucker-covered arm upon her foot for a while.
So the question now is whether these occurrences in which octopuses appear to thank their helpers are just a coincidence. Or are these invertebrates more intelligent than people believe? Of course, many researchers have explored the intelligence of octopuses. Naturalist and writer Sy Montgomery attempts to bring this research together in her article for Orion Magazine entitled “Deep Intellect.”
The article follows her visit to the New England Aquarium, where she meets Athena, a Pacific octopus. Montgomery explains that she’d always wanted to encounter an octopus and was finally given her chance. Senior aquarist Scott Dowd invited her to a private introduction. At the time, the lid of Athena’s tank was lifted, and both octopus and person reached for each other.
As in the cases of Helena and Heng, the octopus used its tentacles to explore the visitor. Montgomery explained, “Although an octopus can taste with all of its skin, in the suckers both taste and touch are exquisitely developed.” She added, “Athena was tasting me and feeling me at once, knowing my skin, and possibly the blood and bone beneath, in a way I could never fathom.”
Peter Godfrey-Smith also has some interesting theories regarding octopuses and their extraordinary use of tentacles. A diver and professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Godfrey-Smith, like Montgomery, has an obsession with octopuses. The professor explained, “It is as if each arm has a mind of its own.”
And of course, science is proving the truth in this idea. In fact, Montgomery wrote, “Three-fifths of an octopus’ neurons are not in the brain; they’re in its arms.” She added, “Researchers who cut off an octopus’ arm (which the octopus can regrow) discovered not only does the arm crawl away on its own, but if the arm meets a food item, it seizes it – and tries to pass it on to where the mouth would be if the arm were still connected to its body.”
If the amazing abilities of its arms don’t convince you of an octopus’ intelligence, then there is further research to explore. Indeed, co-author of Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, Roland Anderson, has yet more evidence of an octopus’ brain power. Not only did he report that the creature he studied had learned to open childproof caps, but also that it displayed playful behavior. By using a bottle as a ball, the octopus was bouncing it back and forth across the tank. Anderson explained, “Only intelligent animals play – animals like crows and chimps, dogs and humans.”
So is it this intelligence that sparked the octopuses on the beaches to thank their rescuers? Godfrey-Smith believes so, stating, “They come forward and look at you. They reach out to though you with their arms.” Anderson’s co-author Jennifer Mather concurs, adding, “I think consciousness come in different flavors. Some may have consciousness in a way we might not be able to imagine.”
And what about the connection the humans felt between themselves and the octopuses? Well, Montgomery attempted to explain this feeling too. After the death of Athena, Montgomery explained, “I have understood from the start that octopuses don’t live very long. I also knew that while Athena did seem to recognize me, I was not by any means her special friend. But she was significant to me, both as an individual and as a representative from her octopodan world. She had given me a greater gift: a deeper understanding of what it means to think, to feel and to know.”