The Seattle Aquarium is making some changes to our annual giant Pacific octopus (GPO) census, which means we won’t be doing the annual count (which in recent years has been conducted over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend) this winter.
Going forward, we’ll conduct the surveys in October rather than January, due to the weather-related complications we’ve regularly experienced in the past couple of years. More importantly, in an effort to be more consistent with our census, we’ll focus the annual octopus counts on six dive sites. Our hope is that the consistency will provide some scientific insight to GPO populations over time.
Why focus on six sites? Over the last 16 years, divers have surveyed many dive sites throughout Puget Sound and, while this has given us a general overview of where octopuses are in the Sound, it hasn’t been able to tell us much about the octopus population as a whole.
That’s one problem with the data we’ve collected. The other is that we haven’t had a single dive site surveyed every year—which prevents us from getting a complete picture of what is going on year to year. Taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the recent creation of octopus protected areas in Puget Sound, we reworked our previous approach to create something that will hopefully provide us with interesting and useful data, and a more complete picture of what’s going on with our GPO population.
The new census will look very similar to what we’ve done in the past, but we’ll now be focusing our efforts on comparing six dive sites. Three of the sites are in the new octopus protected areas, and three are in unprotected areas. And, as noted previously, we’ve moved the timeframe so that the census will now take place in October. Our hope is that October will offer a better window of weather, allowing more opportunities for people to get out and dive.
One thing that hasn’t changed: we’ll continue to use the local dive community to help us gather this data—including charter boat dives, which proved to be a big success and lots of fun in 2015. We’ll provide more information about the dive sites and specific dates later this year. Stay tuned!