Nature,  Travel

Loving The Alien

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No, I am not about to claim that cephalopods originate from outer space, or that they were bioengineered by space aliens – although, who really knows, right? What I do know is that this class of animal is entirely alien to anything else on Earth, and they have always held quite a fascination for me. For those not familiar with the term cephalopod, these include octopuses, squid, nautilae and cuttlefish. Cephalopod literally means ‘feet around the head’. Cephalopods are part of the mollusc family.

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So why am I talking about these fantastic creatures? During my recent family vacation in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, I took part in one of my favorite pastimes: snorkeling. There’s nothing better than laying atop the ocean, weightless, the gentle waves lapping at my sun-kissed back as I peer down at the sea life below. As somebody with Multiple Sclerosis, this is a gentle exercise requiring little physical effort – my flippers do most of the work for me. Although, having said that, an hour or so swimming around took it out of me.

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The beach at our resort was between two sea walls, making the water within very calm and suitable for families with small children. Inside the walls, there were still many fish that came really close to the shore, from where holidaymakers would feed them bread.

Pixie feeding fish

I started gently with snorkeling as it’s been a while since I did it last. At first, I kept within the sea walls, swimming around within easy reach of the shore, just in case my legs muscles gave out on me. Eventually, I swam alongside the sea walls, made up of massive concrete blocks. Within and around the walls lived many hundreds, possibly thousands of fish. Here’s a short video I took with a cheap underwater camera I bought.

I wish I could name all of the different species of fish, but it was a real kick to be sharing the water with them. As I crossed from the end of one seawall to the other, I felt the change in temperature of the water flowing inside from the ocean – it was noticeably cooler.

Clicky for Biggie

It is slightly unnerving to feel such a drastic temperature change, and it makes the wider ocean feel somewhat unwelcoming. Nonetheless, I decided that I would swim out from the bay and follow the sea walls down their outsides. I thought that maybe I might see different species of sea life there, and sure enough, I was right. Outside the bay, the sea was teeming with life!

A lot of scuba diving happens in Lanzarote, and as much as I would have loved to take part once more – I very much enjoyed a scuba diving in Greece many years ago – time and money didn’t allow me to. From the beach, I watched on with envy as groups of divers assembled at the shore and went under. As they left from the beach, often I would catch sight of them from the surface of the water while out snorkeling.

Ok, what about the alien?

I’m getting to that. One day, while following a couple of divers, I swam out much further than I expected. “Ok, this isn’t too bad” I thought to myself, despite the slightly choppier water, and I relaxed into exploring further. Whole shoals of fish, big and small, appeared beneath and all around me.

Looking down at the seabed I noticed a strange American football shape moving, totally unlike anything I had seen up until then. Suddenly it occurred to me that along the body of the thing, were undulating waves rippling up and down. And were those small tentacles I saw at the front of it? Yes, they were! The colors on the body seemed to change slowly from time to time, but there was a mostly zebra-like pattern. Yes, I had caught sight of a cuttlefish! From my vantage point, I estimate it was just over a foot long. I was around 15 ft above the seafloor.

Luckily my camera was running. Unfortunately I had not yet bought an extendable stick to mount the camera on, otherwise the footage would have been so much better. Here, take a look for yourself.

At first, you see the creature swim backward, along with the current, then it starts swimming forward, stop a while, then continue. If you watch closely, as it approaches a rock, it changes color – possibly in response to the proximity of the fish. It seems to have a quick think about the situation and then reverses and moves away from the fish.

If this is the common cuttlefish, which happens to be abundant in the area, I consider myself extremely lucky as they are nocturnal creatures, hunting by night. By day they usually lie buried in the sand. Perhaps it had been disturbed from its slumber, as the sea was rougher than usual that day.

The next day I bought an extendable camera mount and swam out to the same general area. I hoped to be able to catch another glimpse of this fascinating creature so that I could capture better footage. Unfortunately, I never saw one again, despite swimming around for a few hours.

Before my next vacation, I am going to buy a decent Go Pro so that I can capture better video of my snorkeling adventures. Who knows, perhaps next time I’ll be able to take it scuba diving with me…

 

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