Wednesday 11 June 2014

Encounter With a Sea Hare (Aplysia dactylomela)

In May 2014, I turned thirty, during a brief-but-pleasant vacation to Cyprus with my family. On the first morning of my thirtieth year, I went for a swim in the seawater-flooded swimming pool of the hotel we were staying in. Little did I know that the pool held a pleasant birthday surprise for me - in the form of a giant sea slug known popularly as a sea hare, Aplysia dactylomela.

The sea hare looked like a cross between a slug, a hamster and a disembodied heart. It released a brilliant, purple dye when I first caught it - but I could not photograph that moment.

Here is the sea hare in its full view. It was distinctively patterned with large, black, circular spots. These identified it as an Aplysia dactylomela, the spotted sea hare.

Here is a close-up of the little critter's face. Its bushy-looking antennae do not support its eyes as in terrestrial slugs or snails. Instead, her eyes are located on the white, pimple-like protuberances between them.

I released the animal into the sea after taking a few photographs. The encounter with the sea hare impacted me with a strange bout of melancholia, no doubt related to quiet retrospection I was submitting my life to at my thirtieth birthday - an important, if purely imaginary, threshold in many people's lives.

My feelings were further aroused by the importance this pool, and this hotel had for me and my family. Decades ago, I took one of my first  seaside vacations at this hotel with my parents, grandparents and extended family. It was here that I bathed in the sea for the first time, mikvah-like, in the shallow section of the tide-pool. The years went by, my grandparents passed away one by one and death made its presence felt in my parents' generation as well.

More than a decade after my last visit, I was here with my parents and my wife - another generation facing the assault of time. The sea hare reminded me how life was full of unexpected surprises, people, opportunities and dreams - not to mention fear, mistakes and bouts of regret. I guessed everyone went through such tribulations, and everyone had to face them, one way or the other...

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