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Answering The Most Asked Questions About ‘My Octopus Teacher’ (From A Science Perspective)

The movie that captured our hearts at a time when we needed it most, ‘My Octopus Teacher’ was released to the world on September 4, 2020. This documentary took us into a patch of kelp forest where a Common Octopus let a human into her world. Today, we are going to answering some of the burning follow-up questions people had after watching this incredible film! Let’s get to it!

‘My Octopus Teacher’: A Quick Summary

The documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’ follows filmmaker Craig Foster as he returns to the frigid waters of his childhood and starts swimming daily to combat burnout from his job.

At his doorstep is False Bay, located outside Cape Town, South Africa, which is home to one of the world’s unique ecosystems, the kelp forest! There, he meets a female Common Octopus with who he forms an unlikely but precious bond and who changes his life forever.

Filmed by Roger Horrocks and Craig Foster over the span of a year, and directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, this piece of cinematographic magic gives us a rare and intimate glimpse into an octopus’s world!

11 Of The Most Asked Questions About ‘My Octopus Teacher’

After asking some of the most dedicated fans in our OctoNation Facebook Group, here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the live documentary, ‘My Octopus Teacher’!

1. Is ‘My Octopus Teacher’ a true story? 

Yes! ‘My Octopus Teacher’ is about nature documentary filmmaker, naturalist, and founder of Sea Change Project, Craig Foster, and his unlikely friendship with a Common Octopus. Craig spends one year visiting this octopus every day and being a witness to her short life all the while learning things about his own life in the process. 

2. How cold is the water when Craig is filming? Is that normal? 

The waters around Cape Town are temperate and stay consistently cool all year round. In the film, Craig mentions that the water can get down to 8-9C° (46-48F°)!! Brrrr!!

Typically for False Bay, water temperatures hover around 14-16C° (57-60F°) in the winter and getting up to 17-22C° (63-72F°) in the summer months.

Cooler waters are where kelp forests thrive! 

3. Why is he diving without a wetsuit or SCUBA tank? What is this type of diving called? 

It’s called freediving!

Craig Foster says he goes diving without a wetsuit because the cold water energizes him. Depending on your own tolerance, and for the temperatures he’s diving in, it’s recommended to wear a 5mm or 7mm wetsuit with a hood, some gloves, and boots.

Being in the water, you lose a lot of body heat REAL fast and hypothermia can be a real danger. 

Craig Foster says he chose to free dive and go without a wetsuit to feel closer to his environment. As he mentions in the movie, SCUBA equipment can get tangled in the kelp forest whereas swimming with just fins, a mask, and a weight belt can help him easily move through the kelp. Using SCUBA equipment also produces a lot of bubbles and noise when you exhale, which can easily frighten underwater animals.

However, you do have the advantage of being able to stay underwater for upwards of an hour or more (depending on your depth). Because freediving requires you to hold your breath, Craig could only stay with the octopus for a short amount of time before needing to come to the surface to take a breath. 

4. How long can Craig Foster and director Pippa Ehrlich hold their breaths? Do you have to do special training to be able to do that? 

In ‘My Octopus Teacher’, Craig Foster can hold his breath for six minutes and Pippa Ehrlich can hold hers for four. Pretty impressive, right? We did some more research into the world of professional free diving and WOW, you’d be surprised at how long some people can hold their breath!

🐙 Fun Fact 🐙

The current world record for breath-holding is held by free diver Stephane Mifsud with a time of 11 minutes and 35 seconds!

Now, technically you don’t need special training to do this. Freediving and increased breath-holding abilities can come about naturally by spending time in the water and becoming more comfortable in that environment. There are courses available through organizations like:

They can teach you specific skills, safety, and problem management associated with freediving.

5. What kind of octopus is seen in ‘My Octopus Teacher’

The fabulous and most studied of all the octopus species, the Common Octopus (Octopus Vulgaris)! It has that common octopus look (see what I did there? 😉) with a bulbous head, large eyes, and eight arms.

Common octopuses are distributed all around the world, making their homes in diverse and shallow habitats. They spend their days in their dens and nights out hunting for food.

Tip: Head over to Octopedia to learn more about this wonderful species. 

6. What do Common Octopus normally eat and hunt for? 

The Common Octopus prey on a wide variety of:

  • Mollusks
  • Crabs
  • Crayfish
  • Small fish

They use their camouflage to sneak up on their prey and then capture them with their long, suckered arms.

In the movie, we get to see how the Common Octopus evolves her behavior to catch a crayfish after initially having trouble getting ahold of it.

To find out how they chomp down and the different ways they digest their prey, check out this blog where we dive into octopuses and their diets!

7. Is it normal to find octopuses in that environment? 

Absolutely! Octopuses are found almost everywhere in the world’s oceans. Specifically, the Common Octopus is found in shallow areas across tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters worldwide. They enjoy living in diverse habitats from:

  • Coral reefs
  • Seagrass beds
  • Rocky reefs
  • Kelp forests

8. When the Common Octopus starts to camouflage as coral or gets defensive, what is the name of that type of behavior? Is that normal in an octopus? 

To sharks and larger fish in the ocean, octopuses are a squishy high protein treat with no real defenses.

Well, FUN FACT! Octopuses use different techniques to avoid predators, one being to expertly blend into their environments. Not only can they change color to perfectly match the rock or coral they are on, but they also have the ability to change their skin to appear bumpy or smooth.

No wonder predators will swim right past them without even knowing it!

The Common Octopus in actual form.
By: Sea Change Project, Roger Horrocks, and Pippa Ehrlich via Netflix
The Common Octopus changing colors and texture.
By: Sea Change Project, Roger Horrocks, and Pippa Ehrlich via Netflix

If they are spotted by a predator, they can squirt ink and make a speedy getaway or employ deimatic behavior. This type of behavior is when an octopus makes itself look as big and as threatening as possible.

For the Common Octopus, this means stretching out the webbing between its arms to make it look larger than it is and displaying pale skin with dark eye rings.

9. Can an octopus and a human really form a bond? Can the octopus recognize Craig in ‘My Octopus Teacher’

Sure thing! Octopuses are incredibly intelligent animals and have a wonderful curious nature. This is the first time a close relationship between octopus and human has been captured in the wild, however, octopus recognition has been studied in aquarium settings.

🐙 Fun Fact 🐙

Researchers at the Seattle Aquarium did an experiment with eight Giant Pacific Octopuses where one of the keepers would bother it with a bristled stick and another would come by to feed it. After about 2 weeks, the octopus would come out to greet the ‘nice’ keeper but would hide away from the ‘mean’ one. 

Netflix GIF by OctoNation® The Largest Octopus Fan Club! - Find & Share on GIPHY
By: Sea Change Project, Roger Horrocks, and Pippa Ehrlich via Netflix

10. Craig tries to search for the Common Octopus after she leaves to find another den. What kind of predation marks is he looking for to track her down? 

Octopuses are messy eaters, especially around their dens which become a littering ground for crab and mollusk shells. While searching for her, Craig looked for these discarded items.

They have a unique way of eating shellfish where they will drill a hole into the shell, inject poison to make the snail’s muscles relax, which enables them to easily pry open the shell.

Craig looked specifically for these tiny holes in discarded shells, knowing it was left by his octopus friend.

11. Why doesn’t Craig intervene when the octopus is attacked by a shark? 

Craig didn’t want to interfere with the natural course that nature must take. The reality can be heartbreaking, especially as many of us watched alongside Craig as the Common Octopus got her arm bitten off by a pajama shark.

In a healthy ecosystem, every animal plays an important role. Consider this perspective: what if Craig had interfered to save the crab from being eaten by the octopus? What kind of consequences would occur from that intervention in the cycle of life?

Observing and documenting the world the octopus lived in allowed Craig to capture an authentic story, dangers and all.

‘My Octopus Teacher’: An Incredibly Eye Opening Documentry

No matter how much we separate ourselves from the natural world, we will always be inextricably linked together. Craig Foster says it best:

“We are totally reliant on the natural system for every single breath we take, for every mouthful of food we put in our stomachs. We are woven of the same thread. We’re made of the same stuff. If the natural system suffers, we suffer.”

If you want to educate yourself some more about all sorts of different cephalopods, take a look at our encyclopedia. Or, what we call it, our Octopedia!

Connect with other octopus lovers via the OctoNation Facebook group, OctopusFanClub.com! Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with the conservation, education, and ongoing research of cephalopods.

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