Lennox Head’s 13 year old Marlon Denning had an exciting and educational experience during the home-schooling lock-down period in 2020.
Before the Netflix hit My Octopus Teacher came out, Marlon made friends with not one but two octopuses (these were the common species, not the poisonous blue-ringed octopus).
His mother Sharyn Denning told Echonetdaily, ‘He’s got a very unusual affinity with most animals, or really weird animals anyway! Frogs and lizards and snakes.’
Normally Marlon goes to Cape Byron Steiner School, but during lock-down he spent time every day at the ocean rock pools with his mum, who’s an environmental scientist.
Marlon remembers, ‘I just stuck my face in the water with the goggles on, and I looked around and I saw a tentacle and thought, there’s an octopus over there, so I went over to where I saw it, and sure enough there he was.
‘I wriggled my fingers around the water, then he started chasing them around. He chased me back to a shallower part, then he found a little cavern thing, and he hid there.
‘Then he came out and he was swimming around me, and trying to catch my toes and fingers,’ said Marlon.
‘He was there for a week and then one day he wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the same spot for a few days.
‘Then we went back there, and my dad was wading through a slightly deeper part of the pool and then he latched on to his ankle. He grabbed his foot and he screamed!’
When the smaller octopus disappeared for a few days, Marlon made friends with a larger one.
‘That’s when I found the big one you see in the photos that’s touching my hand,’ he said.’That’s Mr Big.’
Marlon’s mum Sharyn says it didn’t take long for her son to build up trust with the normally shy sea creatures.
‘He’s really gentle, so most animals just stay with him for hours, even lizards and things he finds in the garden, he’s a bit unusual like that.
‘He knew that octopus were quite smart, ’cause he reads a lot of nature books. And I’m saying, “Oh it’s not dangerous is it?” He said “no Mum”.
‘They’d just play with him. It was quite incredible really. Then he taught them how to high five, and he knew all their little spots, where they’d be, ’cause this went on for three months.’
‘I had a great time,’ remembers Marlon.
Sadly, he lost contact with his octopus friends after the lockdown period ended.
Sharyn Denning remembers, ‘Then he was back to school, so he could only go on the weekends if the tide was right, so we weren’t there as often.
‘And he hasn’t been able to find them again, so they’ve either moved on or – specially the real big one – that might have just been his life. They only live a year or two. But the little one, he might have just moved on, especially if the tide’s real big, they might use it as an opportunity to move on.
‘But it was really quite incredible, and the really big one, it had an injured tentacle, so over the months we saw it regrowing. That was pretty cool too.’
Marlon still hasn’t seen My Octopus Teacher, but says he’s looking forward to it.
Recently he’s been busy helping artist Austin NITSUA complete a spectacular new mural at the Lennox Skate Park, which has just been finished, and includes an octopus.
‘Yes he said he would put an octopus into the mural after I told him my story,’ said Marlon. ‘There’s tentacles coming out of the waves and kind of touching the hand, which is surfing on the waves.’
Marlon told Echonetdaily he’d like to do something with animals when he’s older. ‘Yeah definitely, I’d love to own a zoo, or work at a zoo.’
Marlon has already been in touch with BBC nature journalist Steve Backshall, and made it to the top ten of Australia Zoo’s nature photo competition for his photo of a frog, out of 6,500 entries.
David Attenborough watch out!
Below is a video shot by Marlon’s mum, Sharyn, showing Marlon with one of the octopuses: