In my internal backstory, Pohl did some preparatory Wikipedia research on handshakes beforehand.

Also, if you don’t usually read the Director Commentary (The Transcript button below), make sure you check it during this arc. Today I discuss some additional background work on the sarnothi and their handshake, and a little extra backstory on Pohl. Yay for ancillary content.

My initial concept for the sarnothi's mode of greeting was an east-asian inspired hand-clasp and bow at the waist. I wanted a sarnothi greeting to be something that disabled or impaired use of the hands/claws as a sign of trust. But the use of a bowing gesture didn't make sense to me. The act of bowing doesn't "feel" to me like something an underwater culture would develop. So it makes more sense to me that, since sarnothi are hunters and predators by evolution, a sign of trust in their culture would be to blind yourself and "sheathe" your weapons. Although the premise of "lowering yourself" before a superior does exist in Sarnoth, in a fashion. Culturally, it is rude to float or swim at a higher elevation than a social superior. If traveling together the social lesser does so at a lower elevation, and if addressed or summoned the social lesser must be the one to take initiative to correct any discrepancies in elevation (for example, if a social superior addressed Pohl while Pohl was currently swimming above him, it would be Pohl's social obligation to swim downward and place himself at a lower elevation while addressing his social superior.) Backstory bonus extra: During his first year or so on the surface, while taking medical school courses, Pohl had to learn not to be very uncomfortable with being taller than some of his instructors. He had a lingering social obligation impulse to "swim lower".