Meet The Miami Doctor Who Danced with An Octopus

Lois Whitman-Hess

Miami Life Editor

The Three Tomatoes

Most people know Dr. Steve Mandy of Miami Beach as one of the most famous cosmetic dermatologists in the United States. He is also known as a photographer, painter, sculptor, and wine connoisseur.  What everyone doesn’t know about Dr. Mandy is that he is one of the only folks on earth who has actually danced with an octopus.

I know that sounds too crazy to believe but it is actually true. It happened during a diving trip in the British Virgin Islands. Dr. Mandy wanted to see what happened to the RMS Rhône, a UK Royal Mail Ship owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (RMSP). The boat was wrecked in a hurricane off the coast of Salt Island in 1867, killing 123 people. It is now a popular Caribbean wreck dive.

Dr. Mandy was diving down about 30 feet when all of a sudden, he spotted something that he had never seen before.  It was about five feet long and had a head the size of a honeydew melon. Dr. Mandy suddenly realized it could possibly be an octopus.

The reason why he wasn’t sure was because most divers don’t usually get to see nocturnal animals. If they do, the animals are very shy and try to hide. This one was just staring back at him. When Dr. Mandy realized it probably was an octopus, he tried to get a closer look.

He slowly cruised up to the octopus as it was carefully examining Dr. Mandy. He said, I could see that it was following me. I got to an arm’s length from it and I just stopped. I was just sitting there, trying to breathe very slowly so that I appeared friendly. I didn’t want to scare it off.

“Much to my surprise, the octopus reached out to me with one of its tentacles. I wasn’t sure if it was being aggressive, or if this was a friendly gesture. I took a chance. I was wearing diving gloves, so I extended my index finger. The octopus then put its tentacles around my finger. We stayed like that for a few minutes. It showed no sign of fear. Then out of the blue it took another tentacle and put it on my face and started exploring.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but octopuses have tentacles that act like little suction cups. The suction cups are tasters, and they actually learn a lot about who you from what they taste. I’m wearing a mask and a mouthpiece but that doesn’t stop the octopus from exploring my beard. I could still feel that this was a friendly encounter. Then while it was still holding my finger, the octopus began gliding backwards in the sand. I didn’t want to disturb this process, so I just followed. It was like we were dancing.

“Then it started to slide under a coral rock. We broke loose. This is where it apparently lived. I wanted to see more so I went down to the bottom level of the rock. I looked in and I saw the octopus looking back at me. I put my finger in front of the opening, wiggled my finger and one of its tentacles  suddenly wrapped itself around my finger again. Then the octopus emerged about halfway out from under the rock. There was no sign of it being upset or aggressive. or anything. We stayed like that for quite a while when I realized that I was running out of air. I had to immediately go to the surface. I finally disengaged and off I went.”

Dr. Mandy remembers that when he got back the boat, the boat captain told him that he had seen what was going on when he went for a dive. He too had been diving for a long time and had never seen anything like that from an octopus. He continued, “You almost never see octopuses in the water. The sight of you dancing with one is an image I want to remember forever.”

Six years later Dr. Mandy was teaching a course in surgical anatomy at University of California San Diego. He had just finished his lecture when a gentleman came up to him to say “I know you. You are the one who danced with an octopus.” Dr. Mandy was astonished. “How did he know this guy? How did he know about the octopus?”

It turns out that the guy was the dive captain he met on his octopus dancing trip and he too was a doctor. In fact, he was the head of the ear, nose and throat department at University of California, San Diego.

How is that for a coincidence?

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