Animal is a 2021 Netflix nature documentary showcasing a range of animals from all around the globe. After exploring the worlds of big cats, dogs, and marsupials, the series turns its attention to the world’s most intelligent invertebrate: the octopus.

The title of this instalment is slightly misleading, as this episode unveils animals across the entire cephalopod group, which includes squids, cuttlefish, and of course, octopuses. The episode exhibits some of the marvellous adaptations of this animal group and shares some fascinating insights and facts that are sure to amaze scientists and general viewers alike.

As an avid admirer of cephalopods, I was delighted when I initially found a whole episode of a nature documentary dedicated to this group of amazing creatures. I knew that these animals were a goldmine for photogenic cinematography and awe-inspiring biology. I was not wrong on either account.

Before watching, I found myself speculating about the direction that the episode would take. Would they show us some of the weird and wonderful adaptations characteristic of cephalopods? Would we get a rare insight into the workings of deep-sea species which are notoriously difficult to study? Would this episode do these animals justice?

The Plot

‘Octopus’ began in Vancouver Island, Canada, introducing us to a female giant Pacific octopus at the end of her life. After laying as many as 100,000 eggs, she took refuge in her den and tended her young for her last six months. As is the case in most species of octopus, this would be her last act.

We are then given an overview of the diversity of this group; there are over 800 species of cephalopod, each unique in their own right. Cephalopods are molluscs, evolved from a shelled common ancestor. Shedding the vital protection offered by the shells, increased vulnerability but paved the way for an active lifestyle, high speeds, and numerous evolved abilities. Remnants of the cephalopod’s ancestor lives on in the nautilus, an ancient cousin of the octopus.

This documentary took us across a range of coastal locations, each flaunting its own species of cephalopod. We are introduced to the common cuttlefish in the Cape Peninsula, South Africa, which has evolved perfect camouflage, inky decoys, and the ability to regrow limbs.

A camouflaged cuttlefish. Living Oceans Foundation.

We are then shown a struggling octopus stranded in the Fernando de Noronha tidepools. By evolving a cavity behind its head, this incredible creature is able to store a supply of breathable water and walk across land until it has returned to its watery sanctuary.

Male giant cuttlefish in Whyalla, South Australia, are able to overcome its love rivals through female mimicry; namely, adopting a mottled appearance and concealing its male-specific arms. In this way, smaller males are able to mate with females under the very nose of their larger counterparts. This feat accounts for a third of all breeding successes.

There are several other examples throughout the episode of amazing triumphs in cephalopod evolution.

Through great patience, this show followed these animals across their lives and documented some truly fascinating natural events. The incredible camera work and beautiful cinematography does wonders in showing off these alien-like creatures and instils a sense of discovery in the viewer.

The Verdict

This episode of Animal seamlessly blended entertainment and education and was a great pleasure to watch.

There are some areas in which this documentary falls short, however.

The narration by Pedro Pascal seems, for the most part, dry and uninterested. I found myself wondering if I would still be engaged in the episode without previous interest in marine biology and cephalopods in particular.

I was also left disappointed by the apparent lack of new information and detail presented in the episode. I’m almost certain that general audience members would have seen much of the information presented, in other nature documentaries and shows.

With the episode running at only 44 minutes, naturally I felt as though the scope of this group was not thoroughly explored. Some of the most fascinating examples of cephalopods are found in the deep sea and exhibit some truly amazing adaptations, from bioluminescence to gigantism.

Additionally, this episode left out one of the most crucial aspects of modern nature: the future. Climate change and fishing practices present an unprecedented number of challenges for marine life, and cephalopods are no exception. Having only recently been deemed as sentient creatures, these animals have previously been subject to exploitation and cruel cultural practices.

I feel that the inclusion of the human-caused problems that are posed on these creature’s lives would have been a powerful theme to end on.

Overall, this show takes us on a stunning trip around the world in cephalopod-infested waters. Through the use of unbelievable underwater shots, effective storytelling, and a beautiful score, we get to experience the lives of these miraculous creatures.

Ultimately, however, I felt as though the episode didn’t quite do these animals justice. With so much left unsaid, I would love to see another episode in season two, dedicated to bringing more of these creatures to light.

Animals is streaming now on Netflix.

Written by Lucas King