Octopus’s Garden by the Sea

It had been a bad day at work. In fact, most days were bad days and hope felt a lifetime away. I needed some sea air. And so, I drove to the Honest Toon of Musselburgh, parked at the harbour and headed east, through the stunning sea foliage and onto the crunchy shale beach. However, just as my stress levels began to drop, I heard a cry,

“Watch out at the shore – there’s an octopus!”

An octopus? I thought to myself, in Musselburgh? Whatever next, a shark in the Water of Leith?

A young girl ran over with her medium sized dog and said. “Some people on the beach tried to help, but they couldn’t move it.”

I looked down. The tide was out and the shoreline was a mass of small puddles, pebbles and seaweed, but even as a vegetarian I couldn’t mistake that big orange head, slimy skin and suckered tentacles.

Ugly? Yes. But we’ve all had our bad hair days, especially in lockdown. Even so, I wasn’t picking it up.

“I think it’s dying,” I said, “Maybe we should just leave it in peace – circle of life and all that?”

The girl’s face fell. Guilt flooded me.

“How do you feel about me saying that?”

“Sad.”

“Hmmm. What would you like to do?”

“Get it back into the sea.”

I looked out at the waves, which were about 100 metres away. In a delaying tactic, I Googled ‘what to do with an octopus on the beach?’ There was nothing useful there, only the ominous warning that octopuses can only live out of water for 20-30mins. Time to get moving. Time to suck up my fears – though not literally of course. As I said, I am a vegetarian.

And so, the girl, her medium sized dog and I found some big sticks and managed to level them under the octopus’s body. But we couldn’t lift it – it kept slipping off. Just then, a man and a woman came strolling along the shoreline. He had a promising large rucksack on his back.

“Excuse me but do you have anything useful in your rucksack – like a spade? I asked. “We have an octopus to rescue.”

The man and the woman stopped and stared for a moment, then she bravely offered to pick it up with her hands, if we could reassure her that octopuses didn’t bite. We could not.

At the same time, the man was rummaging in his large promising rucksack. Unfortunately – and very disappointingly - all he produced was a small Tupperware box that wasn’t even big enough for a child’s lunch box. However, it gave me an idea.

“We need a carrier bag. Then we could slide the octopus into it and carry it out to sea.”

We all looked around. Where was a litter strewn beach when you needed one? Not a scrap of rubbish. (Well- done Musselburgh.)

Just then, the girl spotted a woman leading a small dog and, more importantly, carrying a large, sturdy plastic bag. Possibly a Lidl one though I was too excited to notice precisely.

I said: “Excuse me, do you have anything important in that carrier bag or could we use it to rescue an octopus?”

The woman almost shrieked with joy. “I’ve never seen an octopus before! Of course you can have the bag but I’m going to film the rescue!”

And so, the woman with the small dog began filming, while the girl with the bigger dog, the man with the unpromising rucksack and me with nothing useful at all, somehow managed to slide the octopus into the carrier bag, using four big sticks and a snack-size Tupperware lid.

Admittedly, the octopus was not very happy about this whole chaotic scenario, but it had little choice and, as soon as it had toppled in, I grabbed the bag and ran with the girl and her dog that 100 metres to the sea.

The three of us splashed into the water in our socks and shoes (it was a well kitted out dog), before releasing the octopus in knee-deep water. And - after an angry squirt of black ink - it shot off.

Back on the shore the man with the snack-size Tupperware, the (potentially) brave woman and the amateur (or perhaps not) filmmaker woman with a small dog, waited patiently for the news.

“Well, it’s swimming!” I reassured them.

Everybody shouted “Hooray!”, or words to that effect. And after some mutual congratulations we all went our separate ways.

Since then, I’ve contacted the SSPCA to find out what you should do if you too find an octopus on the beach (or in your garden for that matter).

In short, you should get a Tupperware lid (who knew ??!!) and slide it under the body/head where the teeth are (apparently they can bite when angry or afraid), then try and lift it into a bucket of water (or carrier bag), before releasing it in knee-deep sea.

One caveat - if the octopus is clearly injured, you should leave it where it is and call the SSPCA. That number is now in my phone: 0300 099 999

I went home feeling much better that evening. I wasn’t sure how long the octopus would survive, but what I did know, was that we had given it the best chance we could.

All because one girl: a pupil at Musselburgh Grammar, refused to give up hope.

Musselburgh beach, scene of the intrigue

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There was nothing useful there, only the ominous warning that octopuses can only live out of water for 20-30mins