Ucluelet Aquarium welcomes baby octopus

A brand new baby octopus that was discovered by researches near Ucluelet has moved into a temporary home at the Aquarium.

 

A brand new baby octopus has moved into the Ucluelet Aquarium.

The tiny animal was recently discovered by a group of researchers who were exploring the West Coast’s waters with Ucluelet Aquarium founder Phillip Bruecker.

Aquarium curator Laura Griffith-Cochrane is stoked on welcoming the small specimen and told the Westerly News she believes it is a baby Giant Pacific Octopus.

“At that size, the only way you can tell whether it’s a Red Octopus or a Giant Pacific Octopus is three tiny little folds below their eyelid and it doesn’t seem to have those so we believe it’s a Giant Pacific,” she said.

The baby would have hatched from one of roughly 68,000 eggs laid by its mother.

A female Giant Pacific Octopus lives for roughly 3 years and dies shortly after laying her eggs, according to Griffith-Cochrane.

“Most of the time, she’s alive for the beginning where she’s constantly cleaning these clutches of eggs, moving her arms around them to make sure there’s no bacterial or algal growth on them,” she said.

“She would also be pushing water across them to make sure that they’re really well oxygenated…She has to make sure that all of her eggs are getting enough oxygen in their little den, or cave, so that they don’t use up all of the oxygen and die.”

The male octopus is not involved with the eggs as he leaves the scene almost immediately after passing off his sperm.

“Once the male has mated, it’s actually a very good idea for him to leave quickly because, if he’s smaller than the female, she might try to eat him or she may get territorial,” Griffith-Cochrane said.

“When Giant Pacific Octopuses are close to each other it’s only to mate and then they go away. They don’t like to share their spaces.”

Growing up in the aquarium’s predator-free environment will give the baby octopus a stronger shot at survival as only about three of a female’s 68,000 offspring are expected to reach adulthood.

“They’re up against a lot of different things when they first are born; they’re tiny and a lot of things like to eat octopus,” Griffith-Cochrane said.

“They also, since they grow so quickly, have to find new dens and that’s a pretty scary thing.”

She said Giant Pacific Octopuses start out small but they double in size about every four months and reach roughly 70 kilograms with about a 6-metre wingspan.

“In the cases of octopuses, if they find a perfect nice small cave that they can wedge their body into, within four months it will be too small for them so they have to be constantly looking for new places,” she said.

“They like to be in enclosed spaces, that way nothing can speak up on them; they’re fully enclosed in, and aware of, their space.”

While they celebrate the new baby’s arrival, aquarium staff are preparing to say goodbye to Bowie, a year-and-a-half-old Giant Pacific Octopus who moved into the aquarium in March.

Bowie is getting too big for his aquarium home and has been inspected by a veterinarian who determined he’s ready to reenter the ocean.

“He’s healthy and ready to go back,” Griffith-Cochrane said of Bowie.

A new octopus will likely move into the exhibit Bowie has called home for the past five months as the baby isn’t quite ready for prime time and won’t be able to awe audiences for a few more months.

“We like to have one large Giant Pacific Octopus so people can really see it,” Griffith-Cochrane said.

“At this size, the little one is hiding out. It’s living in a moon snail shell so it’s just hiding out in its little cave and only really coming out at night. It will be a couple of months before it will probably be comfortable enough for visitors to see it.”

The octopuses will be kept separate, as Giant Pacific Octopuses do not share space well.

“They could get stressed out and start to really try to express their territoriality and that’s just not healthy for the species in here; we like them to live stress-free,” Griffith-Cochrane said.

She is excited about featuring both a baby and juvenile octopus at the aquarium.

“They’re really interesting to watch and learn about…Octopuses have a huge amount of personal variation,” she said.

“Every one of them is different. They will have different colour patterns that are preferred by each individual…One octopus might express more white spots when it’s really excited about feeding, some of them get to be really dark red, some of them inflate different sections of their skin, some of them like to be more smooth. It’s really fun whenever a new one comes in because you get to see the variation. It’s exciting.”

andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca