Elbows Of The Octopus

by davidbunch - Date: 2010-07-23 - Word Count: 449 Share This!

It was midnight, as I sat on a camp-stool, and looked at the octopus, and he looked at me. Lights had been out in the aquarium since sunset, and I was locked in there alone, armed only with my flash light. For some months I had been having deep thoughts about the great silent world of fish, living, day and night, in the shadow of the oceans. Would aquarium fish, I speculated, give any indication of what free fish do at night?

They did. Ancestral habits seem not changed by a sheet of glass. The flash of my light did not, I was relieved to find, disturb them. But it did disturb the octopus, and his malignant, milky-white eyes, with their oblong pupils, watched me coldly, while he went on with his night's work. Leaning on two of his eight elbows, he put one tentacle in his mouth and gazed over it, inflating his stomach in an insulting manner. When this did not dislodge me, he drew himself together with a shudder, rose up into the water on all eight legs, and turned a nasty, mottled white. After which he slowly raised one arm and inserted it into his stomach and left it there, like a murderer reaching for his weapon.

This unnerved me. I looked modestly elsewhere to see what was taking place. I had shared a common illusion that fish are creatures of perpetual motion and go on swimming, all night. I now discovered that I was wrong. They "go to bed"' and sleep just like us. Opposite the octopus were five groupers and three rock fish. They had been motionless since ten o'clock. With fins tight closed, and resting on their stomachs, they were now perched in tiers on the rock ledges in their tank, leaning up against the rock wall. They were quite obviously asleep, with their eyes wide open. I sat still and thought about them. Tired, they were. But why?

Well, for one thing, I remembered that William Beebe says, from the depths of his diving bell, that in the ocean there is a drift, governed by tides, and that all the sea things follow this drift. Anything cutting across this drift attracts their attention and upsets them. So I realised how annoyed I would be, if I were a fish, to find that in the tank there is no drift. Instead, a fish has to circle around dizzyingly, besides watching, all day long, human beings travelling right, left, in and out, in front of its window. Watching these humans is all there is to do; ignoring them would be to invite death by boredom. But it is exhausting- no wonder fish sleep.

Related Tags: rock fish, looked modestly, three rock fish, wonder fish, fish sleep

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