At the peak of the season, the numbers of cuttlefish mating along our coast approach the thousands.
Last year, however, we went out at the tail end of the season - quite literally so, in the very last week of it. The enormous numbers had dispersed. We saw perhaps two dozen of them, in the forty minutes that we were in the water
We were a party of four- myself, Mr Tabubil, Miles and his wife Sarah. The day was low and grey and overcast, but very quickly, even in the cold mid-winter shore wind, we were perspiring in our heavy neoprene suits. Sweating and squeaking, we waddled down to the water, clutching our flippers and masks clumsily to our padded chests. Looking rather like penguins on land, actually - aerodynamically implausible and hydrodynamically peculiar. We rather hoped that the analogy would hold true when we were four meters out from shore - anything less suited to swimming than our swaddled and squeaking selves we couldn't imagine.
The first shock of the water was - shocking. As we waded deeper there were howls and certain profane gasps as the water rose to meet sensitive bits of our anatomy, but swiftly, far more swiftly then we'd anticipated, the chill gave way to a generous cool - warm, almost, in contrast to the icy sea. We sat down in the water, strapped on our flippers and adjusted our masks, paddled five meters out to sea - and there they were, three meters below us, monster cuttlefish- half a meter long - brown and white and livid red, and edged with luminescent green running lights, that played and shifted along their bodies as they moved.
There weren't hordes of them - in the forty minutes we were in the water we saw perhaps two dozen, but they were all of them large, and all of them incomparably splendid.
It was thing- one of those moments when you know you are fortunate beyond belief to be where you are, in the moment that you're in. It’s a marking point for your life - everything you do or have done marked as Before or After you saw the cuttlefish. And you hang there, holding your breath and letting that moment extend - and extend - as long as it will let you.
The cuttlefish went about their lecherous business completely oblivious to our presence - courting, mating, and sliding underneath slabs of rock to lay their eggs in total disregard of the flippered monsters wallowing above their heads with cameras around their necks. Our problem was getting down to them. Even with pounds of lead shot strapped to our persons to give us some pretense of neutral buoyancy, swaddled in all our neoprene we weren't so much swimming as wallowing on top of the water. We thrashed and floundered, moving by swinging our arms and legs and gripping for purchase on the surface - rather like jesus beetles on a rapid-moving stream of water. All up, no down, plenty of sideways. Duck diving down to the bottom meant required working up a good head of steam, arrowing down as hard and fast and as hydrodynamically as we could, then flailing our flippers madly and getting in one swift close-up look before we shot back to the surface like a bottle rocket. Feet first.
Ten meters further up the coast, a dolphin made mockery of our foolishness with languid, lazy curvettes as it grazed on the cuttlefish in the sea grass bed. It ignored us with indifferent equanimity - just like the cuttlefish it preyed on. It wasn't our world. We were privileged to visit, merely. Momentarily.
A cuttlefish resting in the seagrass:
Can you see it? It's red and it's cranky, and its about 11 inches long!
Posturing male cuttlefish three meters below us - each is about 2 feet long.
Note the play of color and irridescence. Red signifies anger. I don't know what white is, but you tend to see it when they are mating.
This cuttlefish was the only one that deigned to notice us. And he did NOT appreciate our coming close to him.