Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

Video: Octopus babies hatching in Puget Sound

Ecotrope | June 28, 2011 9:49 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:37 p.m.

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I thought this video by underwater videographer Laurynn Evans of Giant Pacific octopus babies hatching in Puget Sound was fascinating. Turns out, the story that goes along with it rivals the images themselves.  I had no idea:

  • Giant Pacific octopuses only live for about 4 years
  • The mama octopus holes up in her den after laying a hatch and never feeds again; she dies after the babies hatch
  • The papa octopus often dies shortly after insemination
  • After laying the hatch, the mama octopus braids nearly 100,000 eggs into lacy strands with her suckers and hangs them from the ceiling of her den to look after them as they grow
  • The mother’s last act is to blow the hatchlings out of the den before she crawls out and dies
  • Only one, two or three of all those eggs will survive to become a reproducing adult octopus

A brief summary of the story, discovered via a post by NPR’s Robert Krulwich: In November 2009, a Seattle diving team started watching the mother octopus, whom they nicknamed Opal. In January 2010, she began blocking the mouth of her den with rocks – a sign she was getting ready to lay a hatch of eggs. The octopus babies started hatching in September 2010, and the divers caught the event on camera!

More from The Seattle Times:

For nearly seven months, Opal fended off predators and groomed her eggs to keep them free of harmful bacteria or algae. She used her siphon to blow oxygen-rich water across the eggs. Inside each tear drop-shaped egg, the babies gorged on yolk and grew.

“The eggs start out saffron yellow, and as they age they get darker,” Evans said. “You can see the tiny octopuses inside the egg casing if you look closely.”

While her eggs matured, Opal shrank.

Once they wall themselves into their dens, female giant Pacific octopuses never feed again.

“We watched her get grayer and grayer,” Evans said. “The skin just started to hang off her arms.”

Near the end of August, the team began diving more frequently in anticipation of the hatch. On Sept. 4, they spotted the first babies.

It was the first week of school for Evans. “I’ll never forget it,” she said. “As the week unfolded, I’d get up at 5 a.m., get off work at 4, run home, get my stuff, meet to dive, then get home at 11:30.”

Her film shows a trickle of offspring at first, then a rush. “The hatch got bigger and bigger,” Evans said. “By the end, it was just babies, babies, babies, everywhere.”

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