No, this did not mean I got a tattoo, however I did get inked–by an octopus!
4 years after my first scuba experience, (hyperlink of goliath grouper post), I worked with an eco-tourism company named 3 Islands-Whale Shark Dive, in Exmouth, Western Australia. While working for this company, I took people on snorkeling tours around the pristine Ningaloo Reef to help them find turtles, rays, and sharks. After lunch, the captain took the boat out to the open ocean to swim with the rare, and gentle giants, the whale sharks. But on this certain day, we weren’t going to experience whale sharks, but another majestic marine creature.
It was early in the morning, and the water around Ningaloo Reef was crystal clear. The spot on the reef that the captain chose was a bit deeper than most guests could free dive, so I decided to dive down by myself, and pointed out the animals for them to see from above. A small sea turtle swam under a natural arch in the coral reef to eat some algae off the limestone, so I swam down to get a closer look and identify what kind of turtle it was, whether it was a hawksbill or green sea turtle. As I continued to free-dive about 15 feet straight down and through the arch to watch these turtles, all of a sudden a million tentacles were in my face, moving around like Medusa’s snake head! I turned my head to see where the octopus was, when she shot ink right on my face. Octopuses use their ink as a form of defense, confusing predators and get themselves away safe and sound. And, oh my, was this defense mechanism effective!
The blackness that surrounded me caused to lose my place in the water and hit my head on the ceiling of the arch. I waved my hands back and forth to disperse the ink, but it was not working. The only thoughts that I had at the moment was “Abort! Abort!”. I put my hands out to grab the limestone around me to gain control of my senses, reaching backwards to find the opening to get out of the tunnel when the ink began to clear. The octopus was still there, just shoved into a tiny hole in the reef. These marine creatures can fit in whatever space their beak tooth can fit in. In this case, her beak was probably the size of a nickel. As I look at this octopus, my inner dialogue kept saying, “geez! I’m sorry! I’m trying to leave, but you made it harder for me to see the exit, with your ink everywhere!”
I swam out of the hole and back up to the surface. After my first breath, a guest said, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe that you just got inked by an octopus!” These guests were doctors and witnessed my whole encounter with the octopus. I reassured them that I was ok but the doctor in the group checked my vitals, especially since I was bleeding a little bit. To be honest, my whole encounter with this octopus was one of the coolest animal interactions I have ever had. I was smiling cheek to cheek. Three minutes later, I was back in the tunnel admiring my new friend–from a distance of course.
The lesson that I learned from my times with both the giant grouper and the giant octopus is that we have to learn to take a risk and dive through the tunnels and arches both in the wild, and in life. You will never know what you will discover, not only about the secret lives of animals, but also about yourself.
Be brave, but be safe.