Heptune presents:

The Cuttlefish of Sentosa

by Brenna Lorenz

All contents copyright © 1998 Brenna Lorenz, Megaera Lorenz, Malachi Pulte. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction of any part of site without express permission is strictly prohibited.

Photograph of several beautiful cuttlefish hovering in their tank.
All photos of the cuttlefish of Sentosa are by Brenna Lorenz.

    South of the city of Singapore is an island called Sentosa. Sentosa has been converted into a tourist haven, and you can reach it by cable car. The most interesting attraction there, for us, was the aquarium.
    These cuttlefish live there in a huge floor-to-ceiling tank. When we first approached them, they were all lined up, hovering, facing us, watching the tourists. Some of them lurked back in the rocks, others were closer to the front of the tank, but all of them were facing the same direction. Except for the undulations of their fins and the languid posturing of their tentacles, they were motionless. Their bodies rippled with changing color patterns.
    We all stood and stared at them, and they stood and stared back at us. We found the positioning of their tentacles fascinating. It looked so purposeful. We speculated as to whether they were communicating among themselves with the color changes and the tentacle positions.
A face-to-face photograph of a cuttlefish lurking in the sea grass.    One of us suggested that we try talking to them using our fingers as tentacles. Each of us came close to the glass, put our fingers in front of our faces, and arranged our fingers in gestures similar to theirs.
    One cuttlefish came forward out of the crowd to meet each of us. Mike had a cuttlefish. I had a cuttlefish. Megaera had a cuttlefish. And Malachi, who is the smallest of us, had a small cuttlefish. We gestured at them and they gestured at us. "What's he saying? What's he saying?" Malachi kept asking. Malachi's cuttlefish didn't do much gesturing. It just stared at Malachi, and we had the impression that it was another child, staring like a toddler with its mouth hanging open.
    Another tourist saw what we were doing, and joined us. Another cuttlefish came forward to meet her. After a moment, she darted all her fingers at it suddenly, and it jumped back. It slowly came forward to face her again. Then it shot its syphon out at her. She squealed and leapt back.
    Mike's cuttlefish then shot its syphon out at Mike a few times. Mike answered by flicking his fingers at the cuttlefish. Neither of them jumped.
    We finally had to leave because the power went out.
A photograph of two cuttlefish gesturing at the photographer.    We wonder if anyone else has tried talking to the cuttlefish of Sentosa, or any other cuttlefish. Is there a way to decode their language, or teach them some code of ours?

    Cuttlefish are predacious carnivorous cephalopods related to squid and octopus. Cephalopods are a class of mollusks, a phylum that also includes snails, chitons, clams and slugs. The ammonites are an extinct group of cephalopods, and nautiloids are almost extinct. We later met some nautiloids in a tank in an aquarium in Yokohama, but they showed not a glimmer of intelligence.

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Published: 11/7/98.
Updated: 3/10/01.

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