“Are you hungry, or just happy to see me?” said one octopus to another, whose body was changing color in a split second, from milky white to fire red. That’s how octopus communicate, changing the pigment colors in their skin. White to red could mean, “Shall we make babies?” A different color change might be a warning, like a stop sign: “Back off, pal. Don’t mess with me or my garden.”
We animals communicate in so many ways. Octopus remind us how important are our visual cues. And how varied. How do they do this? A feature of their skin is chromatophores, cells that can change color and pattern.
At the cool “Tentacles” exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, you first meet different octopus species, like the Giant Pacific and the Flapjack. Then there’s a big interactive display like a TV studio, where guests of all ages sit before the screens and are invited to imitate the octopus: communicate by grimacing and smiling and pouting into cameras. Face recognition software recreates the cephalopod conversations; smile and you turn red, grimace, and you become mottled and blend in.
We become octopus. We laugh and change our face some more. “Look at me!” Smiling opens our hearts to our cephalopod brothers and sisters in delight and compassion. You leave the exhibit feeling a closer bond to these cephalopods.
Instead of presenting the octopus as objects – wow, look at this weird animal – the exhibit connects us, subject to subject; we have more in common than whatever separates us. We all want to be safe in our gardens, we all want to be in touch with others, we all want to spend quality time together. And we surely could all stand to pay more attention to visual cues.
As I smiled, watching others clown for the camera, I felt my heart opening a bit, to learn more and love more about my new marine friends. Hearts unfold like flowers before you. God wants us to love all creation, and to smile and empathize with our brothers and sisters. Thanks, octopus.
I write these devotionals about ocean stewardship and spirituality every Wednesday here and on Facebook. Our Blue Theology Mission Station welcomes pilgrimage groups to the Monterey Bay all year long – we are pretty full for summer, but check out bluetheology.com for future times and ideas.