An Emotional Support Dog, Cat, or… Octopus?
Travel April 23, 2023 Wilko van de Kamp
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Did you watch the Netflix documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’? In the movie, you’ll see the unusual friendship between a human and an octopus living in a South African kelp forest. The filmmaker documents the animal sharing the mysteries of the underwater world.
Many people who watched the documentary might assume that octopuses are playful, curious creatures. But if that’s what you think you might have missed the start of the movie. Sure, the octopus in the documentary seems friendly, even wants to be petted and seems to appreciate the human companionship. Nature can be odd, but beautiful at the same time.
Enter: the Teacher
The movie starts however with the story of Craig Foster, a man being unhappy with his life, burned out and depressed. To find a distraction for his troubled mind he starts going back to doing something he used to love: swimming and snorkelling. This is when he first meets his octopus teacher. Over time Foster develops a rare connection with the animal.
The movie isn’t as much about swimming with an octopus, as it is about finding happiness in connecting with the place we have in this world. It’s about being part of something, seeing how one belongs and fits in, respectfully. If anything, that’s the message the octopus teacher taught us.
“What she taught me was to feel… that you’re part of this place, not a visitor. That’s a huge difference”.
Swimming with the Octopus
What happens next? The documentary becomes popular and people ignore the start and end of the movie, but zoom in on the cruise-excursion-like activity part of it: swimming with the octopus. Is this the new swimming with pigs in the Bahamas? I hope not. No longer is it about fitting in to our surroundings, but barging in on the octopus’ space.
They’re friendly and playful, after all. Right?
Wrong. Lance Karlson learned this first hand. He encountered an aggressive octopus which did not want to be messed with. And rightfully so. Karlson recorded an octopus swimming toward his camera in shallow water, when suddenly it whipped out its tentacles before spreading them out. This one wasn’t in the mood.
The story didn’t end there. Twenty minutes later, as Karlson swam a little further he felt a whip across his arm, his neck and upper back. The encounter left a painful imprint on his neck, and he later told CNN that the water around him turned murky with octopus ink. This one clearly wasn’t so happy with the “inadvertent” home invasion of a curious, but threatening swimmer who crossed the octopus’ line and found himself in a place he didn’t belong.
But let’s think back to start and ending of the Octopus Teacher documentary. Was this swimmer depressed and burned out? The story doesn’t say. But anyone who’s ever felt extremely sad or “down” before, might know animals connect with that state quite well. Animals, including our household cats and dogs “sense” our emotions and will often spend time with their owner to support them.
A Sixth Sense
But what if animals we don’t usually keep as pets sense the same thing? Their sixth sense connects with a vibration of a human being subconsciously sending out a distress signal for support. With any luck, you may find yourself an emotional support cat, dog, or octopus. I believe all animals are emotional support animals, just not all of them have decided to go “professional” and gotten their emotional support certificate. Nor do they need to.
Karlson, captioned his Instagram post of the encounter as the ‘angriest octopus on Geographe Bay’, Western Australia. He still doesn’t know what he did to anger the octopus so much, he told CNN. “They are beautiful creatures and I really hope this provokes more interest in octopuses as opposed to fear of them. I think this is a fascinating creature with clearly some very strong emotions just like we do as humans”.
The beating he took marked Karlson’s first encounter with the octopus. He said he would watch the popular Netflix documentary next to learn more about the creatures. I sure hope he doesn’t miss the start and end of the movie as it may help explain what actually happened here.
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