Spanky the baby octopus is still feeling out her new surroundings and isn’t quite ready to shine in her spotlight just yet.
The tiny female moved into the Ucluelet Aquarium in July and, at less than 1-year old, she is the youngest Giant Pacific Octopus the facility has ever housed.
“She is currently living along with our brittle stars…so she’s surrounded by a whole bunch of brittle stars and, at this point, is eating some small krill, very tiny shore crabs, and some other juvenile species that will come in with water flow,” Aquarium curator Laura Griffith-Cochrane told the Westerly.
“We’ve put in a couple of different things for her to use as a den. One of them is a moon snail shell and one of them is a scallop shell that she’s buried herself under…She’s mostly active at night, very careful about her dens, and she’s being very conservative in her behaviour.”
Spanky’s wariness of her surroundings is natural as only a handful of the 68,000 eggs a Giant Pacific Octopus lays will reach adulthood in the wild.
“Squid and octopus are incredibly nutritious things to eat so there are a lot of species that would really like to benefit from eating them,” Griffith-Cochrane said.
“The young have to be very, very, careful. Their world is very dangerous when they’re small.”
Griffith-Cochrane said the aquarium will not push Spanky to put on a show for patrons as this could stress the little baby out.
“Our main purpose as an aquarium is for education, so while we hope that we’re able to entertain with a lot of the knowledge that we share or the beauty of the things that we’re displaying, our main purpose is to create an understanding about our marine environments and a respect for them,” she said.
“Our facility is very concerned about respect and animal welfare. If we were pushing for things to be out all the time then we would be undermining our own principles.”
She said many of the ocean’s creatures cannot handle stress as adeptly as humans.
“Humans are really good at dealing with stress. We stress ourselves out all the time, we create stresses, we take on more stresses than we should, and we’re able to handle that and deal with that,” she said.
“But a lot of invertebrates and fish that we deal with are not good at handling long-term stresses, that can very rapidly shorten their life span…So if we’re going to release things that are healthy and able to go back to their environment and succeed, then we need to release things that are stress free.”
She noted keeping stresses low helps keep the aquarium’s vet bills low.
“A species that has reduced stress has a higher immune system,” she said. “That also means that we have smaller vet bills and we don’t have to worry about infections or sickness as much.”
Along with benefiting the animals, Griffith-Cochrane said taking their time with each species also allows aquarium staff to offer unique experiences to visitors.
“You might be here on a day where our wolf eel is out and feeding, or you might be here on a day where our little octopus is out and foraging through the tank, or you might see something else that’s unique to you,” she said.
“We just let our species do what they’re comfortable doing and then each person gets a unique experience and each species gets to go back healthy.”
She noted Spanky is not the aquarium’s only shy creature.
“There are a lot of species that we collect and bring in here that are very good at camouflaging so not everyone will notice them,” she said.
“Unless we’re pointing them out to a lot of visitors there’s a lot of people that would miss them, so she’s like that, she’s really good at hiding. When she’s out and about we point her out and then if she’s snoozing we just let her snooze.”
She added Spanky will likely be comfortable enough to greet guests soon.
“She’s still really, really, small but like other Giant Pacific Octopuses she doubles in size every four months so she will get larger and she’ll get more active and we’ll move her into another display,” she said.