A Singapore woman was exploring the coast near her home in 2013 when she came across a small octopus stranded on the shore. Without a second thought, the marine lover scooped the stricken creature up and placed it back into the water, effectively saving its life. But while the kind action took the woman just a few moments, the octopus gave her a memory she will cherish forever.
Pei Yan Heng is a 20-something science teacher who lives and works in the island city state of Singapore in Southeast Asia. Marine life fascinates her, and she often goes diving to explore the waters of her native country. What’s more, as Heng wanted to share her awesome water-based experiences with the world, she created a YouTube channel in 2007.
Since then, Heng has filled her personalized channel with numerous videos which document her aquatic adventures. And over the years, the young woman has had some incredible underwater encounters. Yes, she has found herself up close and personal with a dog-faced water shark, witnessed a sea spider crawl across the ocean bed and captured reef sharks and rays on film.
But of all Heng’s beautiful and awe-inspiring uploads – many of which benefit from her Scuba diving prowess – some stand out from the others. And the science teacher posted one of her most popular videos on August 8, 2013. It certainly seems to have captured the hearts and imaginations of the online world at least. You see, the short clip has gone viral and has attracted a phenomenal 9.7 million views.
Heng filmed the video at the Cyrene Reefs near to the heavily industrialized port of Singapore. Although the area is just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city, its wildlife thrives. The reef here is, in fact, well known for its seagrass meadows and a rich and exotic array of marine life. As such, it is the perfect place for a serious sea life enthusiasts such as Heng.
And that August day on the Cyrene Reefs at the end of Singapore’s dry season did not disappoint the marine life lover. On this occasion, Heng came across an octopus on the sands. Unfortunately, the tide had receded, and the mollusk had been left high and dry. Not one to let living beings suffer, though, the teacher decided to step in and lend the eight-legged creature a hand.
Using a plastic container she had to hand, Heng carefully scooped the octopus up. She then walked to the shallows of the water to release it back into a friendlier environment. And luckily for us, this is when the marine fan started to film. The sandy octopus is all curled up as Heng gently tips it out of the container and into the water. And in doing so, the kind woman most likely saved the soft-bodied creature’s life.
You see, while it is possible for octopuses to survive out of water, this is only for a limited time. The mollusks breathe using gills and need to be immersed in water in order to get oxygen. So, if Heng had simply walked by the unfortunate little fellow she found on the shore, there is a good chance it may have perished after a few minutes.
In the video, when Heng first eases the octopus back into the water, the creature remains lifeless for a few anxious moments. However, it appears that the mollusk was just getting its bearings. We watch as the animal’s gills soon begin to expand as it refuels on vital oxygen. It almost appears to be gulping the air down.
And Heng continues to film the octopus as it gradually recovers in the life-giving water. We watch with wonder as the creature’s respiratory system kicks fully into action, sending plenty of bubbles to the surface. However, nothing could have prepared Heng – or her subsequent audience of millions – for what was to come.
The octopus appears to be happy and relieved as it grows in size before our eyes. We see it wriggle its eight tentacles one by one, slowly fully unraveling each and stretching out in all directions. Then, without warning, the fascinating creature starts to make its way towards Heng’s foot as she stands in the water filming.
And when the octopus reaches Heng’s boot, it does something amazing. Yes, the mollusk reaches out a tentacle and seems to place it tenderly over its rescuer’s foot. The creature then stays in this position for quite some time, just breathing and making contact with the selfless human.
When the creature is done, it moves away from Heng and goes to rest once more in the shallows. After that, the sea life cinematographer’s short but sweet video comes to an end. And as Heng pressed the shutter to complete her footage, she no doubt wondered what had just happened to her.
Now although there is no way of knowing what was going through the octopus’ mind, Heng had her own ideas. When the creature placed its tentacle on her foot, it was, she believes, trying to make a connection – to say thank you. Indeed, it did appear that the previously marooned mollusk was immensely grateful to the young woman for saving its life.
But while there is no way of proving Heng’s theory, it is entirely possible that the creature understood exactly what was going on. Along with cuttlefish, octopuses have the biggest brains compared with body size among all invertebrate animals. And as octupuses have displayed advanced mental capacities in studies, marine experts regard the creatures as deeply intelligent.
And Sy Montgomery, a German naturalist who has examined octopuses closely, even goes one step further. Yes, she claims that the mollusks are even more intelligent than the scientific world generally believes them to be. Writing in the nature periodical Orion Magazine in 2011, she wrote, “Researchers who study octopuses are convinced that these boneless, alien animals – creatures whose ancestors diverged from the lineage that would lead to ours roughly 500 to 700 million years ago – have developed intelligence, emotions, and individual personalities. Their findings are challenging our understanding of consciousness itself.”
But no matter what Heng’s footage may or may not tell us about octopus intelligence, there is no denying that the clip is totally magical. Indeed, the viral video has captivated a vast online audience in the last few years. And many of its almost ten million viewers agree with Montgomery and feel that the octopus can teach us something.
Yes, many grateful YouTube users were moved to comment below Heng’s footage. “One of the best examples. Nature is alive just like us,” read one of the messages. “We need to work together instead of destroying Mother Earth. We rely on each other.” Another viewer concurred saying, “They are highly intelligent animals!”
“I didn’t think it’d be so easy to tell that it’s grateful, but just look at it,” another awed member of the YouTube community marvelled. “It goes right for your foot, but doesn’t even explore it with its tentacles, just one arm draped over your boot before it turns around and heads in the opposite direction. Incredible.”
And while it is impossible to get to the bottom of the octopus’ thought process, many people agree that the mollusk was motivated to say thank you to its human savior. It is safe to say, then, that the sea life lover will never forget her special encounter. What’s more, Heng’s actions go to show how a little kindness can go a long way.