Travel Ephemera #11: Critical Cuttlefish in La Rochelle

The aquarium at La Rochelle is a large glass-fronted building on the Quai Louis Prunier.  You can’t miss it.  Even if you try.

Common to most modern aquariums, there was the opportunity to walk through a glass tunnel while fish swirled all around you; there were sharks; there was a sawfish who looked like it had a nice smiley face when it turned belly-up; and there were some mean-looking conger eels.

la rochelle aquarium ticket

However, it was none of these underwater star-turns, which most captivated me.  I found myself enthralled by a shallow tank, close to the entrance, which contained two cuttlefish.

I couldn’t recall having seen cuttlefish in an aquarium before.  I’d found plenty of hard, white cuttlebones washed up on beaches; fed several of them to a recalcitrant budgie, which belonged to an old aunt, when I was a child; never seen a living specimen before.

I don’t know whether it was because I already knew that cuttlefish were meant to be very intelligent––possessing one of the largest brain-to-body ratios of all invertebrates––but I felt that the two cuttlefish were observing me, as interested as I was in observing them.  A meeting of equals?  Maybe, until…

The two cuttlefish continued to watch me––their distinctive W-shaped pupils never once veering away; never once distracted.  They floated effortlessly; the merest tremor through the skirts of their mantle the only suggestion of movement.  What were they thinking?  What were they thinking about me?

A sudden flash of colour.  Brilliant iridescent green, just for a second, illuminating the small creature’s entire mantle.  A colour repeated in the other cuttlefish, as though in reply.  What did it mean?  It was clear that they were communicating about me.  Assessing me.  Critical of me.

A meeting of equals?  I don’t think so.

I felt hugely inferior; fled to the simpleton smile of the sawfish, who just seemed pleased to see me.

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