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Octopuses, fascination and historical notes in relationships with humans

This section - curated by Andrea Impera and Filippo Fratini on the initiative of ASD Blu Deep Emotions - was created to help increase and feed the knowledge of divers (and not divers) of octopodiform cephalopods present in the Mediterranean Sea, through the publication of documents, workshops and themed events, and the implementation of Citizen Science initiatives.

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Web Supervisor:  Stefano Serranti



The octopus in ancient civilizations

Is well known as man’s interest in cephalopods and in particular octopods is very remote. In fact, at least in the Mediterranean basin, it has been abundantly and duly documented by the main civilizations that overlooked the sea, which, in numerous writings, mention the various techniques that were used in order to capture them.

At the same time, the octopuses were also able to inspire the artistic skills of these civilizations, both in the imperial age of Rome and in that of ancient Greece, in which skilled craftsmen depicted them in pottery, in splendid frescoes on walls and ceilings, or in vivid mosaics of glass paste.


In one of these, for example, dating back to the second century BC, and coming from Pompeii, an assorted group of marine animals is represented. In the center, the undisputed protagonist, an octopod is reproduced in the act of catching a lobster . It is a truly valuable work that still today, after having overcome the ravages of time and the violence of the Vesuvian eruption of 79 AD, arouses all our admiration.


The octopus between history and legend

With the progress of navigation, many fantasies also grew about these creatures, which originated, in all probability, from real sightings of gigantic squid. It is to cephalopods that the most gruesome stories of monstrous creatures that, for generations, have been handed down and that still, abundantly exceeded the dawn of the 21st century, persist in some places. Mythological stories, concerning sea

monsters with tentacles, are present a little in all ancient cultures, where they are linked to the sea for geographical reasons or for commercial purposes. It is perceptible how the immense "blue expanse" has facilitated many legends, fueled by lack of knowledge of its natural inhabitants and the elements that act on it.

The sighting of a giant squid, for example, must have been a much more recurring element today, which is why it is not difficult to imagine what horror has taken hold of the sailors in seeing its emerging silhouette, perhaps when the their big eyes reflected the last lights of a twinkling sunset. Then, thanks to the night, the most chilling stories were told, drawn on paper and engraved on ivory tentacles about to crush sailing ships and swallow men.

the term “kraken” used to name these gigantic beings originated in the Scandinavian Peninsula, moreover already in an epoch after the middle of the 13th century. Well, after half a millennium it is even taken up in various scientific works, including “Systema Naturae” (1752) by the Swedish Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the “father” of the classification of living beings. In fact, he came to use it to classify a hypothetical species belonging to the class of cephalopods.


 The octopus in literature

A curious testimony on a “giant octopus” is also reported by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) in “Naturalis Historiae”. He tells us that this specimen, at dusk, had taken the habit of looting the Roman oyster and lobster nurseries. One night, the exasperated guardians decided to surprise the animal with the help of their dogs and after a furious fight the eight pod was killed. Reports of that kind project us directly into crypto zoology. Among the best-known Italian scholars are Maurizio Mosca, Pasquale Saggese, Giancarlo Costa and Silvio Bruno. The “entacolated” monsters were then able to inspire immortal chapters of literature, just think of what is described by Jules Verne (1828-1905) in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" (Vingt mille lieues sous les mers-1870) when the Nautilus submarine is attacked by a giant “octopus”. Definely, since always, the meeting with an octopod constitutes, for every diver who practices this wonderful activity for recreational purposes, a special and unforgettable occasion. Too flashy and extraordinary, this creature, to linger only fleetingly in front of it.


The octopus "star"!

Globally, a more relaxing example of the relationship between man and these marine molluscs, occurred during the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa, thanks to “Paul”, a common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) hosted at the “Sea Life Center” in Oberhausen, Germany. "Driven to predict" the winning soccer team in a given match, he had numerous intuitions that earned him the nickname of "the first octopus soothsayer of history”. At the international level, such a theater was certainly positive for the image of sympathy that followed, and on these molluscs, slowly, a greater respect and a proactive interest has certainly developed in order to know them not only because of their behavioral characteristics but also the aspects related to their biology.


What the diver can do for the octopus: Blu Deep Emotions initiatives

Regarding cephalopods in general, including octopuses, there has always been a limit, namely the lack of in-depth observations on their behavior in the environment It is something that aroused not a few regrets and considerable frustrations in the theutologists of the past, but which still substantially exists today. Roger Hanlon, one of the leading living experts on these animals, in a recent revision of the text “Cephalopod behavior II ed. (2018)”, has returned with some reflections on this aspect, thus pausing to point out: “It's interesting to note that the wide availability of digital cameras has increased the flow of anecdotal evidence, but she was also responsible for a number of buffaloes. However, fishermen, as well as recreational divers, professional divers and photographers, can often give valuable advice on where and how to find a particular cephalopod. We know so little about them that their information is usually worth hearing. Such approaches, in the study of the ethology of cephalopods, have advantages and disadvantages, but it is undisputed that there is no more correct method than others for studying these or other animals. Nonetheless, it is important that observations and records of what cephalopods actually do are always considered by researchers, however sophisticated the laboratory analyzes and experiments may be".

In this context, therefore, the recreational diver, through his reports and the photo-video material collected, can represent a precious support in favor of that research aimed at a better understanding of these creatures. However, in order to rise or aspire to this task, the possession of specific concepts and notions will be indispensable and in this the role of professionals and the support of expert teachers is revealed, precious and essential.



Sexual Dimorphism in Octopuses

(by Andrea Impera)

Octopus sighting forms

to be completed and returned (optional)

Identification according to characteristics

Sighting Card


For curious people:

With great surprise we know how an octopus managed to catch a lionfish, one of the most dangerous alien species:



​- Carl Von Linné: 1735, Systema Naturae 1 a Ed.

Gaius Plinius Secundus: 77 d.C., Naturalis Historiae, libro X

- G. Castiglioni: 2011 e 2017, Mostri dei mari italiani (articolo web).

J. Verne: 1870, Vingt mille lieues sous les mers.

Il polpo Paul:

Roger T. Hanlon, John B. Messenger: 2018, Cephalopod Behaviour II ed.     Cambridge University Press. Pag. 27 - 28

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