I was feeling a bit sorry for the octopus in its two-chambered tank at the Seattle Aquarium. While I love that I get to stare at this amazing animal up close, peer into its eye and watch its suckers delicately maneuvering on the cylindrical glass barrier, I'm also uncomfortably aware of its captive state.
Then a student alerted me to a dramatic National Geographic story in which the Seattle Aquarium tried placing the octopus in a larger tank which also contained dogfish sharks.
The sharks were mysteriously disappearing from the tank. Someone finally stayed overnight to see what was happening to them and caught the action on film.
The octopus, which the aquarium folk had thought would be safe from the shark due to its camouflage skills and ability to rapidly squeeze into small spaces to hide, was ambushing and eating the dog sharks at night when no-one was around.
This must go on all the time in the wild, although presumably one octopus would rarely have such easy access to so many sharks - both captives.
It has the curious effect on me of wanting to learn how to dive so I can hopefully see the animals in their natural, uncircumscribed habitat, at the same time that it gives me a shudder at the thought of meeting one of these animals in its natural, uncircumscribed habitat.
There's something to be said for being on the other side of the glass...
There's no such thing as empathy in the natural world, but there's a cleanness to the match. Suckers, eight arms, and a beak, it turns out, are pretty powerful against fins and teeth. Like a life-and-death game of rock-paper-scissors, only you don't get to choose your weapons.
Via National Geographic. I recommend watching with the sound down or off.