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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Amazing Dwarf Cuttlefish

Cuttlefish at the Seattle Aquarium

Cuttlefishes get their name from their cuttlebone—an internal, porous structure that helps to regulate their buoyancy—an element of anatomy that no other cephalopods possess. There are 120 known species of cuttlefish: you can come see dwarf cuttlefish, Sepia bandensis, in the Aquarium’s Tropical Pacific exhibit.

Dwarf cuttlefish earn their names: they’re about the size of a pea when they hatch, and grow to approximately three to four inches long; other cuttlefish species range generally in size from six to 10 inches.

 

 

And, while all cephalopods can change color, cuttlefishes do it in quite a spectacular way, earning them the nickname “chameleons of the sea.” Cuttlefish can go from white (their color at rest) to jet black—and many other colors in between—in an instant. They can even scroll bands of color across their bodies, an effect which some scientists suggest is used to mesmerize prey and communicate with other cuttlefish.

Cuttlefishes prey on shrimp, crabs and fish, relying on their camouflaging ability to sneak up on their desired meal. If the prey is partially hidden by sand, cuttlefishes can squirt out a jet of water to uncover it. Then they quickly open their eight arms, shoot out two long feeding tentacles to grab the prey, and pull it toward their sharp beaks.

Cuttlefish at the Seattle Aquarium

Visit our website to learn more about these fascinating animals, then come see them in person during Octopus Week at the Seattle Aquarium!

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Update: Tucker the rehabilitated sea turtle

Tucker the turtle

Regular readers of our blog will remember that last year, the Seattle Aquarium took in a critically ill olive ridley sea turtle that was found stranded on the Oregon Coast. He quickly became known as “Tucker,” a name that came from the first sign of life he showed after his arrival: tucking his tail under his body.

Tucker spent several months being rehabilitated at the Seattle Aquarium, Washington state’s only sea turtle rehabilitation facility. He even underwent treatment in the hyperbaric chamber at Virginia Mason Hospital before being deemed well enough to travel to SeaWorld San Diego and continue his rehabilitation, along with two other turtles of the same species. Tucker headed to sunny California last May and has been there ever since.

Tucker the turtle

Below is an update from SeaWorld San Diego’s Assistant Fish Curator Mike Price about what Tucker has been up to since he left the Seattle Aquarium.

All three animals—Solstice, Lighting and Tucker—are doing very well. They’ve been in a large pool (90,000 gallons, 12 feet deep) for six weeks and we’ve seen substantial improvement in their ability to not only dive, but to also maintain depth while foraging for food off the bottom. The turtles have also been observed resting for prolonged periods of time on the bottom without assistance to maintain their positions. They’ve even been observed stopping themselves mid-water and holding their position in the water column.

All three appear to be heading in the direction of being candidates to return to the wild in fall of this year. It’s also interesting to note that they still appear to be buoyant at surface, but when maneuvering through the water column, there’s no indication of any hindrance to their buoyancy in either foraging or resting.

We’ll continue to keep all three in the big pool to assist with their rehabilitation toward the goal of successful return to the wild in the fall!

Tucker the turtle

We hope to add a blog post later this year about Tucker’s return to his home in the ocean. Stay tuned!

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All About Geoducks

Say it with us

Geoduck is pronounced goo-ee-duck. Other names for this majestic mollusk: mud duck, king clam and (translated from Chinese) elephant-trunk clam.

Geoducks

A well-earned name

Geoducks (Panopea generosa) are native to the west coast of North America, and their name is derived from a phrase in the Nisqually language, gʷídəq, which means “dig deep.”

The world’s largest burrowing clam

When fully mature, Puget Sound geoducks weigh, on average, a bit over two pounds. Their shells are between six and eight inches long, and their siphons (the “necks” that protrude from their shells) can be over three feet long!

Geoduck held in two hands

Record-breaker

The largest geoduck ever weighed and verified by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was a whopping 8.16 pounds.

Old timers

Geoducks can live more than 150 years, and don’t reach their full size until they’re 15 years old.

Deep diggers

True to their name, geoducks are generally found buried two to three feet deep in mud, sand or gravel on Puget Sound beaches (by comparison, Manila clams are usually two to four inches underground).

Don’t pull!

If you’re lucky enough to see a geoduck siphon on a Puget Sound beach, touch it gently—if you can even do so fast enough before the geoduck retracts it. Pulling on the siphon will break it and kill the animal. Fast fact: it’s illegal in Washington state to possess only the siphon of a geoduck.

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