It was yet another no surf Saturday, so we decided to go for a coastal bush walk behind the marine lab. I had spent the whole day trying to write, and sort things out (are ‘things’ ever ‘sortable’?). Along the way I had inhaled too much coffee, and had decided laundry was more important than the writing at hand. Fresh air and chats with mermaid friends would be lovely. Lily and I rocked up at the Leigh Marine Discovery Centre as Ros was closing up, and we got to pop in to visit Pam the octopus!
Pam the octopus was found in a shell washed up on nearby Pakiri beach, after Cyclone Pam had passed through earlier this year and tossed a few things around! Tony and Jenny Enderby, our local marine rangers brought Pam to live in the tank at the Leigh Marine Discovery Centre (Ros calls it the Disco, and I have started calling it the Very Disco Centre – it has a sound tunnel where you can walk through and listen to underwater sounds made by different sea creatures).
Pam gets fed shellfish like local greenlip mussels and crabs, and has some nice seaweed and rock caves to help her (we’re not sure if it’s really a girl) feel at home. People come into the centre to learn more about the sea creatures we have in the marine reserve, and an octopus on display is always popular. Pam will not spend her whole life in showbiz, as it will be ideal to return her to the sea. While we do not remove any animals from the reserve, the centre gets a few sea critters from research staff and students collecting samples for their own studies while they are out in the field. Young visitors are taught to be gentle and respectful of the sea creatures in the touch tank (Pam is in a no-touch tank…), and sometimes we have a few polite refusals to handle the animals, so that they do not get “too stressed”. Beautifully thoughtful.
Interesting: there is no collective noun for octopuses. A school of fish, a pod of dolphins…I wonder if it is because octopuses do not tend to gather together? They are known to be very intelligent, and can be either right- or left-handed. They are great escape artists because the only hard part of their body is the beak, so they can squeeze through tiny openings, using their strong arms lined with multiple suction cups to pry open, and move objects. Two of their three hearts pump blood to their gills, and the third heart is in charge of circulating blood around the whole body. Their blood is blue, as it uses a copper-based oxygen transport system, called haemocyanin (our blood is red because it is iron-based – haemoglobin) to help them survive in the water.
Octopus ink is generally black, and contains mucus, melanin, tyrosinase and amino acids. The ink is released as a way to allow the soft-bodied octopus to escape hungry predators, as it moves away quickly using jet propulsion. The octopus rapidly changes its colour and texture using highly-specialized cells containing pigments and light reflectors, called chromatophores, that change based on the information they receive from surrounding muscle and nerve cells. This helps it to match its surroundings and blend into safety.
These incredible creatures are all about producing the next generation: the male octopus dies after mating; the mother guards her brood of eggs, and dies when the baby octopuses hatch.
This is a great video of baby octopus hatching, by Pang Kuong. (Notice the shrimp? I wonder what it’s thinking!)
In the deep water of Monterey Canyon (1400 meters or 4600 feet), off the coast of Monterey Bay, California, researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), observed a female octopus guard her eggs for four and a half years! They believe that the eggs develop more slowly because of the low water temperature (three degrees Celsius; 37 degrees Fahrenheit). Read more HERE.
To find out more about octopuses and how incredible they are, check out:
- the Monterey Bay Aquarium story on the Giant Pacific Octopus at their Tentacles exhibit HERE.
- Sea Creature Fact of the Week, a fun blog on all sorts of interesting ocean wildlife, and smart ocean-friendly product choices.
Click HERE for Sydney Harris’ Giant Pacific Octopus story.
- the Ocean Portal at The Smithsonian shows us how octopuses (and squids) change colour HERE
- a cute podcast interview with Sy Montgomery, on Radio New Zealand, about her book, The Soul of an Octopus HERE.
Sy also confirms for us, that the plural for ‘octopus’, is ‘octopuses’, not ‘octopi’. Also, octopuses seem to show favouritism, and like people who feed them things they like to eat!
- the Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand entry on octopuses in Aotearoa, and their link with Māori HERE.
Coming up: Part Two: moving onto the paddle crabs! In the meantime…
give someone a tentacle hug: