Cuttlefish are incredible. I know that’s a sweeping, meaningless statement but when you’ve met a cuttlefish or two, you do appreciate them.
Without being overly anthropomorphic, you can commune with a cuttlefish. This film tells you a LOT about them.
Snorkelling in the Caribbean at St Lucia four years ago, I was watching fish when a flotilla of cuttlefish hove into view. They were lined up in front of me, five of them, in formation, holding their positions at eye level with me.
It was a surprise, to say the least these creatures appearing out of the blue to observe me. I was meant to be the observer surely?
I’d just spent a wondrous ten minutes or so watching fish having fun – swimming into a shallow pool at the edge of the rocks and being washed out by the waves – only to swim round to experience the whole thing again…and again… and again…
So it was a very new experience having creatures observe me as I lay still in the water, camera in hand.
I’ve blogged about it before and there’s a bit of film here on YouTube so I won’t repeat myself but suffice to say that when I spotted a cuttlefish in Akumal Bay, I was unfeasibly thrilled and expected much the same behaviour.
The Akumal Bay cuttlefish was very different. It was about two feet from the seabed when I spotted it and looked like a Disney version of a sea-creature – about a foot long, sparkly pale pink and silver with a silver-white frill all around it and two enormous eyes. It was holding its tentacles primly together in a neat arrowhead at the front.
I stopped swimming and just lay watching. It saw me and turned from sparkly baby pink to turquoise, mauve, pale green and pink. I retreated a little to show I wasn’t threatening it but giving it space.
The expected communication did happen. It swam up a bit and continued changing colours from second to second – an astonishing display. I swam forward a fraction and it retreated a little but rose in the sea to just below my eye level.
It was only about four feet away now almost directly in front of me, then it did a curious thing. I’m quoting from my diary now so you get the full gist… I called her “she” with no scientific evidence whatsoever other than she was an incredibly girly-pink cuttlefish..
“She did a curious thing with her tentacles. She loosed the arrowhead of tentacles and curled some upwards and some downwards giving a splayed-out effect before bringing them neatly together again.
“Then she brought her body into a curved vertical position in the water before going horizontal again. All the time, the two big eyes were regarding me with, I felt, a degree of curiosity and intelligence.
“I stretched out one hand to her and waggled my pink painted nails. I felt her behaviour deserved some kind of reciprocal recognition. She wasn’t in the least phased and continued the constantly changing colour display including a turquoise the colour of my swimming cozzie.”
I’m not sure how long this went on. Time just stretches out when extraordinary things are happening. She swam closer and I swam very quietly alongside her with minimal movement for a short distance. So beautiful and so close! If only I’d had the Go-Pro camera but I had nothing with me to record it.
Very shortly, she decided she’d had enough and literally shot off faster than a speeding bullet. Ok well faster than I could discern anyway!
As I was returning to shore, I saw her again in the next sandy clearing in the rocks. She was posed about a foot from the sea floor again. This time, I left her alone. We’d had our fun and she’d made it clear my time was up.
The turtles were one thing, tolerating my presence and allowing me to swim alongside for brief periods – this beautiful communicating creature was quite another. I was convinced it was a cuttlefish so I looked it up on the Caribbean Reef website.
“The Caribbean Reef Squid…. Often mistaken for a cuttlefish… etc etc… “
So I was communing with a squid! My Little Disney Princess Squid. An amazing, curious and communicative creature.
I may never order calamari again.
More about the Caribbean Reef Squid
From the Marine Invertebrates of Bermuda by Kelly M. Mackay:
It has been suggested that the Caribbean Reef Squid has its own ‘language,’ with visual signals constituting a vocabulary and syntax (Moynihan and Rodaniche, 1982). This suggestion exvokes many responses in the scientific community and poses such questions as, “do signals provoke different responses?”(Hanlon and Messenger, 1996), “are combinations of patterns designed for particular reasons?” and “can individuals ‘converse’ with one another?” (Moynihan and Rodaniche, 1982). Answers to such questions may lead to important revelations in squid society and behavior. Though limited knowledge is known on the various forms of visual signalling, much more research needs to be done to show the wide-ranging implications it can have.