My Most Extraordinary Encounter

Dear Critters,

Today I must share with you the story behind one of the most extraordinary critter encounters I have ever experienced.

“Make a wish,” I invited my dive buddy Ruth as we entered the waters of Blairgowrie Pier once again with our cameras in tow. “Seahorses,” she replied, and we both laughed; her wish for all of our most recent dives had been the same. “What about you?”

“Giant cuttlefish,” I returned without hesitation. A few months ago, Spunky Abe and I had driven 15 hours to South Australia to observe the annual mating aggregation of thousands of these awe-inspiring creatures in the shallow waters of Whyalla. I was delighted to have come home to some unexpected sightings of the same animals at one of my favourite local dive sites.

Within moments, Ruth had found not one seahorse but two nestled in amongst the bubble weed: a tiny male short head hippocampus with a large, pregnant belly, and a most unusual animal that either through birth defect, accident or run-in with a predator had no face whatsoever below its eyes.

LOGO Seahorse with no snout front onI wondered how the tiny creature could look so happy and healthy and how it kept itself alive without the usual long seahorse snout. How had it managed to sustain its life with such a dramatic disability? Enthralled by the chance to photograph these two distinctive seahorses separately and huddling together, I was surprised when Ruth tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to my left.

The few cuttlefish I have seen previously at this dive site had been quite difficult to detect, camouflaging themselves as a rock near the base of a pylon or nestling in amongst the weeds, texturing and recolouring their skin to blend into the sea bed. But this normally elusive animal that I had wished for at the start of the dive now approached me boldly from behind, then swam around to the other side of the seahorses I was photographing, watching me intently. “Please come with me,” he whispered, and I followed without hesitation.

LOGO Giant Cuttlefish Watching DiversWe swam together for ten minutes, gliding side by side like old friends through the cold water, bathing in the bliss of the moment and the intensity of our unforeseen connection. Several times, the cuttle turned towards me, and sometimes he drew closer to my body as we swam together as though fearful that I might disappear. His eyes spoke volumes as they looked into mine, his unspoken words seemed filled with the most profound empathy.

LOGO Cuttlefish on Angle
But why had this animal done the unthinkable, choosing and approaching me to swim with it along the pier pylons, then out across the sand to rest in the sanctuary of the seagrass? The tell-tale signs of the cuttle’s pale head, the withering tentacles gathered close into its body, the thread of decay unravelling upon its forehead and the small eruptions on its back revealed the terrible and wondrous truth. This gorgeous giant cuttlefish was dying.

I had discovered on my recent expedition to the cuttle aggregation in Whyalla that after mating, the bodies of these majestic animals literally begin to disintegrate. And as they enter this final stage of their lives, they often seek the company of another animal that is also dying, staying in close proximity to provide each other with comfort and protection. I had spent much time in Whyalla filming and photographing one particular pair of cuttles in their waning hours, waiting for the inevitable end to come for them both.

LOGO Two dying cuttlefish

Only a week ago, my buddy LP and I had come across the sorrowful carcass of a giant cuttlefish floating on the surface as we entered the water of the same pier I was diving today. We knew from the extensive disintegration that it had recently mated, and that its mate would soon meet the same fate if it had not done so already.

LOGO Cuttlefish Disintegrated

And yet the question remained. Why had today’s cuttlefish, a creature that would not normally seek out human company, appeared from nowhere behind me and invited me to accompany it for such a peaceful and seemingly purposeful swim? My buddy Ruth had followed us, and several times I had signalled to her to move closer to the animal to take photos. But each time the cuttle would move closer to me as though somehow we were uniquely connected, as though I would understand my role to be its protector.

This giant cuttlefish could not possibly have known that one year ago my oncologist had given me a prognosis of six to twelve months to live. There is no way it could have understood that I too had faced the slow deterioration of my own body and been forced to accept the inevitability of death. And while it had chosen me as its companion and protector during the final stage of its life, my focus as we swam together was not on death at all but on the absolute bliss of the exquisite, unparalleled here and now. How utterly joyous to glide beside this creature, both of us still vibrantly alive in the face of impending death.

“Come rest with me in the sea grass,” he whispered, nestling down as the texture of his back utterly transformed to hide in amongst the weed, wondering why I did not camouflage myself the same way. “Please stay with me until death comes for us both.” And the heart within me was wrenched by the choice – to stay beside my precious new friend until the last breath of air had been consumed from my tank and we slowly dissolved together? Or to follow my buddy Ruth back into the shallows, across the shore and back into a life of every moment lived as though death might never come.

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Photo of PT and cuttlefish courtesy of Ruth Betteridge

“Stay with me,” the cuttlefish implored, and for just a few moments I allowed Ruth to swim alone in the opposite direction, leaving me alone with the dying cuttlefish. “I can’t,” I sighed wistfully, consumed by revelation. “No matter what the doctors may have said, this is not my time.” But I promised to keep my companion alive in my memory for as long as I have breath.

Reluctantly, I left the cuttle who had chosen me to stay with him until death, seeing Ruth safely back to the shallows where countless days of life await my resolve to live them to the full. No, my dear friend, I am not you today. I am more like the feisty little seahorse missing its snout, determined to survive against all odds. I’ve heard it said that time spent underwater is not held against the time you have left on land, so lately I’ve been following my doctors’ orders to the fullest extent and doing what makes me feel most alive. I like to think that I have many more dives in me yet, but when my time does eventually come, this one will sparkle in my memory more brightly than most.

Here are a few more of my cuttlefish videos that you may enjoy 🙂

Love and bubbles,
PT xxx

Photo of PT and cuttlefish 2 weeks earlier courtesy of Geoffrey Van Damme

Photo of PT and another giant cuttlefish 2 weeks earlier courtesy of Geoffrey Van Damme

ps Tanks so much for sharing this underwater adventure with me. While you are here, please check out some more of my ‘Scuba Vs Tumour’ underwater adventures

pps And don’t forget to follow Pink Tank Scuba on Facebook, YouTube and Instragram … and subscribe to this blog by email for updates direct to your inbox 🙂

30 thoughts on “My Most Extraordinary Encounter

  1. Your post may be the best I have ever read on your site or any other diving or photo site. The thoughts and emotion you have portrayed, the poignancy of your words all make for an amazing read. Thank you for such a beautiful posting.

    Coincidentally, only minutes ago I too posted a small story and a couple of photos of my recent “cuddlefish” encounter. Not so thoughtful as yours but they are special just as you are. Keep the posts coming.

    • jsandrin, my heartfelt tanks yet again for some of the most encouraging words spoken into my life – I am humbled by your thoughts and inspired by your feedback. I have now posted a link to your cuttlefish encounter post in reply to this comment so that I and my readers can all visit and enjoy it. That we posted similar posts at the same time seems a wonderful coincidence to me 🙂 What astonishing animals these are! Looking forward to receiving your blog link below, and encouraging all of my dear followers to visit your page after they have finished reading this post. Love and bubbles, PT xxx

  2. Well my friend. That is a very parallel analysis, and despite what some people think or believe, animals do have a connection with humans when they feel so inclined. Yes, this story is one which transcends just a normal tale, but speaks volumes of living life for life and finding some times finding someone along that road less travelled to share the journey with, despite how long or short the road may be. I truly hope people read your piece and are inspired to believe in themselves as I know you believe in yourself despite all odds. We all live and we all die, yet it is how we live which is of the most importance. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Tank you so much for your thoughtful words and feedback LP and for all the incredible input you have given me about my writing over the years. It is my absolute privilege to have had this experience and to be able to share this perspective. As you know, it took me quite some time to process the significance of this encounter, but it has been one of the most life-affirming ever. Tank you for sharing so many of these exceptional underwater adventures with me in person 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. PT: That sounds like a great dive. Getting the chance to just “be” with those creatures is a great treat.

    I’m very glad you’re beating your doctors’ estimates. Keep diving and winding the clock backwards!

    • Tank you so much for your kind words and encouragement, supersecretthing – it really was one of those life-defining dives and I am always so in awe when marine animals initiate interactions – this occasion was truly transcendent 🙂 It’s strange, although on paper I’m technically now on ‘borrowed time’, I am convinced that all the diving I have been doing has done wonders for my health and well-being. The more I dive, the more truly alive I feel 🙂 Many more amazing dives to you as well! Best fishes, PT 😀

  4. The quality of your experience and your writing about it is totally beautiful. I’m so glad I happened on your blog – thank you ❤

    • Tank you so much for your kind and encouraging words and for sharing this amazing adventure with me, Alison. Love and bubbles, PT xxx 🐙

  5. Thank you for a beautiful story and a shared experience – it really touched me! I often feel that the people in this world who know they’re on borrowed time have discovered life’s great secret, to live in the now, you are an inspiration, and it is a joy to read of your experiences, much love & thanks xxx

    • Tank you so much for your kind words of understanding and support, Kerry 🙂 It means so much to me to be able to share these extraordinary experiences and to know that others have found something to encourage and inspire them within my words and images. Blessings for you today and much love in return, PT xxx

  6. Beautiful.

    I’ve been lucky enough to dive with these lovely beasts – had one great experience with one that was apparently asleep under an overhang, with its colours rippling gently up and down its body in time with the surge. And then there was another which tried to steal my buddy’s dive computer, but that was more slapstick comedy than anything else 😛

    Best wishes, and thanks for sharing your journey with us!

    • I love your ‘cuddlefish’ stories, Minz – tanks so much for sharing them with me 🙂 They really are the most amazing animals 🙂 May your day be filled with bright blessings now and always, like the colours rippling down the body of a sleeping cephalopod (what a beautiful image you have painted with your words 🙂 ) Best fishes, PT 🙂

    • Tank you so much for your kind words, Marie. I feel as though I am the lucky one, but I feel very honored to have shared just this short time with such a beautiful creature 😊 Love and bubbles, PT xxx

  7. A very nice article that I can relate to having don’t 15mins of my last dive face to face with a cuttlefish, just chilling out together. Keep diving and keep sharing your stories

    • Tanks so much for your encouraging words, Paul. How awesome to have that chill time with such an amazingly wise and mysterious creature! Many more happy future dives to us both 🙂 Best fishes, PT

  8. A wonderful experience, and beautifully described. Cephalopods are the most amazing group of animals underwater. The intelligence and resilience they demonstrate puts many humans to shame, and if only we could read their minds. I wrote and posted about my love for Cephalopoda and your post illustrates perfectly how remarkable these lovely animals are. I wish you many years of inter-action with our mutual friends.

    • Tank you so much for your kind words, likestowrite. You are totally right about cephs – they really are extraordinary creatures and it is one of the greatest privileges on earth to spend time with them. I enjoyed reading your ceph-love post and wish you many more positive encounters with cuttles, squids and your favourite octopuses in the years to come. Best fishes, PT 🙂

    • I absolutely will, Adriana. This was such an amazing experience. Please feel free to ask my buddy Ruth about this when you meet her. Thank you for being one of my newest dive buddies – it’s a pleasure and a privilege xxx

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