Cephalo-fun at the Seattle Aquarium

As we finish up Octopus Week, February 18–26, we thought we’d share the love with a couple amazing relatives of the giant Pacific octopus.

Stubby squid at the Seattle Aquarium

Stubby squid, Rossia pacifica

Winter is the best season for recreational divers to spot the stubby squid. During summer, it moves to deeper water to reproduce, but in the winter it inhabits the shallows. Even so, these animals can be hard to find, burying themselves in the sand as they wait for shrimp to ambush.

One thing that sets these unique animals apart from the cephalopod crowd: despite their names, they’re not squid. They belong to the order Sepiolida, which is more closely related to the order Sepiida (cuttlefish) than to the order Teuthida (squid). Like cuttlefish and squid, stubby squid do have eight arms plus two tentacles.

Red Octopus at the Seattle Aquarium

Pacific red octopus, Octopus rubescens

A Pacific red octopus, on the other hand, is definitely an octopus. It belongs to the order Octopoda, along with hundreds of other octopus species. This particular species is the much-smaller cousin of the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini). A Pacific red octopus typically grows to no more than 1.5 pounds and a 20-inch arm span during its two-year life span.

Pacific red octopuses are sometimes mistaken for baby giant Pacific octopuses, but there are some clues to help you tell the difference:

  • Pacific red octopuses have “eyelashes,” three small projections called papillae under each eye.
  • Despite its name, the Pacific red octopus is typically less red in color than a giant Pacific octopus, tending toward a more brown/grey palette
  • While giant Pacific octopuses tend to have paddle-shaped skin projections, those of the Pacific red octopus are more rounded.

 

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Birds, bees and octopuses

As you may already know, we couldn’t play Cupid to giant Pacific octopuses Pancake and Raspberry this year—turns out Cupid’s arrow had already hit the mark with female Raspberry, who started laying eggs before her blind date with male Pancake. On Valentine’s Day, we released her back into Puget Sound, which will allow her to find a den in which to lay the remaining vast majority of her eggs.

Giant Pacific octopus at the Seattle Aquarium

But if Pancake and Raspberry had actually met…and if the proverbial sparks had flown between them…what actually would have happened? In other words, how do octopuses reproduce?

If you look carefully at a male octopus, you’ll notice that one of his eight arms is not like the others. When mating, the male uses that special arm, called the hectocotylus arm, to transport a spermatophore from his mantle into the female’s. His sperm is deposited into her oviduct, to be stored in an organ called the spermatheca until they are needed.

The eggs themselves only become fertilized as they are being laid; they must pass through the spermatheca before exiting the female octopus’ body. Each fertilized egg is then coated in a nutritious, protective jelly and a protective sheath, called the chorion, before being laid inside the den chosen by the female.

Pancake, a giant Pacific octopus at the Seattle Aquarium

Interested in learning more about octopuses, and/or trying to spot a male’s special arm? Join us for Octopus Week, February 18–26, featuring hands-on activities, special talks and more each day!

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Seattle Aquarium cute couples alert!

We may have been thwarted in our attempt at an octopus blind date this year, but there are still some very charming “couples” on exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium.

A quick note before you get too starry-eyed: Not surprisingly, relationships in the animal kingdom are quite different from human relationships. Animals may couple up for a moment, a season or a lifetime—but mating for life isn’t as romantic as it sounds. Animals that choose to mate year after year do so for practical reasons: they’re busy establishing territory, incubating eggs and/or caring for young…spending that time and energy attracting a new mate every year minimizes reproductive time.

That said, please join us in celebrating these twosomes at the Aquarium—and come see them in person during your next visit!

tufted puffins

Tufted puffins

In the wild, tufted puffins form pairs to share in the duties of incubating their egg and feeding their chick. They will return to the same nesting area and the same partner year after year. Here at the Aquarium, our tufted puffin couple Red Blue Band (male) and Yellow Band (female) have bred and hatched two chicks that now live in the exhibit with them: Purple Band (male, born in 2014) and White Band (female, born in 2015, also known as “Gill”).

Yelloweye Rockfish

Yelloweye rockfish

They may not always be seen together, but the two large yelloweye rockfish in the Window on Washington Waters exhibit often couple up during the winter/spring. Lately they’ve been seen swimming circles around each other (during which time the male will turn very dark in color) in a fishy courtship dance. Rockfish have internal fertilization and give birth to live larval young. The number of young depends on the species of rockfish, and the age and size of the individual, but can be hundreds of thousands of baby rockfish!

mated wolf eels

Wolf eels

We have two pairs of wolf eels denned up together in the Window on Washington Waters exhibit and another pair in the Underwater Dome. Previously thought to bond for life, we now believe that wolf eels can switch partners from season to season.

Can’t get enough of octopuses, even though Cupid’s arrow didn’t fly this year? Join us today on Facebook Live to see a live octopus release, and then join us for Octopus Week, February 18–26, for special activities and lots of chances for up-close looks at these amazing creatures!

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Get ready for Octopus Week at the Seattle Aquarium!

In anticipation of Octopus Week, February 18–26, as well as our Octopus Blind Date on February 14 (Valentine’s Day!), we asked Senior Aquarist Kathryn Kegel to answer a few questions for us.

giant Pacific octopus at the Seattle Aquarium

 

Q: Where do the Aquarium’s giant Pacific octopuses come from?

A: We collect our octopuses locally right here in the Puget Sound. We are lucky to be located in the heart of their natural habitat, which is important for us because it means we get to release the octopuses back to where we collected them.

Q: Every Octopus Week, the Aquarium releases an octopus back into the Puget Sound. How often outside of this event does the Aquarium release octopuses into the Sound?

A: We generally keep our octopuses anywhere from six months to a year, then release them back to the Sound. Octopuses are what we call terminal maters, meaning they die after mating. Octopuses only live three to five years, mating only at the end of their lives. We feel it’s important to be able to release them back to wild to allow them to complete their life cycle.

A pre-Octopus release dive briefing at the Seattle Aquarium.

A pre-octopus release dive briefing at the Seattle Aquarium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What goes into preparing an octopus for release?

A: There is a lot of preparation that goes into an octopus release and the whole Octopus Week! We actually start planning for this event in September. We meet once a month to check on the progress of planning for the releases, visitor activities and the animals, making sure we are on schedule for the event in February. During the month of January we start rehearsing for the releases as well as some of the other events happening during Octopus Week. We begin with a tech rehearsal to make sure all equipment, lights, camera and communication cables are working properly. Then we will do a “wet” rehearsal, which basically means we do the full release without an actual animal. A release takes about 20 people to pull off, with five divers in the water and about 15 top-side support staff and interpreters. Once we have practiced all the steps a couple of times we are ready to go for Octopus Week.

Rehearsal dive

A “wet” rehearsal dive, where Seattle Aquarium divers rehearse the octopus release using a “moptopus”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What happens after the octopus is released?

A: We don’t really know. During Octopus Week, when we release an octopus live for our guest at the Aquarium, we follow the octopus for about 20 minutes, but after that we just don’t know. They most likely move to an area with good food and a den space. After mating, females find a good den space to lay their eggs, and guard them until they hatch—shortly after the hatch, the females die. Males continue to move around, looking for another female to mate with, then die.

Q: Can you describe a day in the life of caring for an octopus?

A: We start our day at 7am, beginning with an initial check of each animal and their life support systems. Once we’ve verified everything is working normally, we come up with an exhibit cleaning plan that includes all the exhibits in the area. We work on cleaning exhibits until the Aquarium opens, then we move on to food prep and care of our animals behind the scenes.

Our octopuses on display are fed twice a day by the interpretation staff so our visitors can learn more about these cool animals. The interpretation staff records every feeding, making notes on how the animal responded and how much food they ate. This allows us to make changes as needed to the menu for the health of the animal. After the Aquarium closes, we have a night biologist who continues to do rounds checking on our animals and their life supports system until we come back the next day and start all over again.

Katie and Kathryn Octo Tech Rehearsal

Senior Aquarist Kathryn & Diver Katie pose together before an octopus release tech rehearsal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: How many people at the Aquarium care for your octopuses?

A: Our octopuses are cared for by all six members of the Aquarium’s cold-water fish and invertebrate team.

Q: What might people be surprised to find out about giant Pacific octopuses?

A: Every octopus we care for here at the Aquarium has a slightly different personality. Some are more active and curious, others more laid back and mellow.

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A message from our CEO

Seawall project

After over a year of seawall construction directly in front of the Aquarium, I’m happy to report that we are in the home stretch, with completion anticipated in early spring. Pay us a visit soon to see the changes in progress, and be sure to take note of the light-penetrating glass blocks in the sidewalks on your way in: they’re in place to aid migrating salmon.

Completion of the section in front of our facility represents a major milestone in the overall seawall project, and an important step closer to the redevelopment of Seattle’s central waterfront. With your support, we at the Aquarium continue with the expansion planning that will seal our place as the centerpiece of the new waterfront, with exciting new exhibits and programming devoted to ocean health. We recently completed an implementation plan for this extensive and complex project; I look forward to sharing more details with you as they develop.

In the meantime, please take advantage of the many events and programs at your Seattle Aquarium in the months to come—visit our website for all the details. Thank you again for your support!

Sincerely,

Bob Davidson, Seattle Aquarium CEO

 

 

Bob Davidson
President & CEO

 

 

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