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Center has arms full with octopus babies

Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2005

 

  In this photo provided by the Alaska SeaLife Center, a baby octopus swims in a tank at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, Wednesday April 13, 2005. Several eggs from Aurora, the Alaska SeaLife Center's Giant Pacific Octopus have hatched over the last 48 hours exactly 10 months after her encounter with the center's male octopus, J-1. AP Photo/Alaska SeaLife Center,

In this photo provided by the Alaska SeaLife Center, a baby octopus swims in a tank at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, Wednesday April 13, 2005. Several eggs from Aurora, the Alaska SeaLife Center's Giant Pacific Octopus have hatched over the last 48 hours exactly 10 months after her encounter with the center's male octopus, J-1.

AP Photo/Alaska SeaLife Center,

Earlier this month, scientists at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward became the proud stewards of octopus hatchlings and await an explosion of new hatchings expected shortly.

Aquarium curator Richard Hocking said the mother octopus, Aurora, laid between 60 thousand to 70 thousand eggs.

"It's not a steady stream or anything, so we think the mother may have done something that caused some sort of disturbance to make these hatch," Hocking said. "In any case, it makes logical sense because this is happening exactly 10 months after it all started."

"We're in a little bit of uncharted territory. There haven't been any studies on this species' development in the colder water we have here," he said, "but the timing is appropriate with the appearance of plankton in the wild."

Several batches of eggs were separated for insurance and Hocking said it's too early to tell their rate of survival. Those that have hatched are being caught and moved to smaller aquariums.

"Quite a few died off and we've moved some to other rearing tanks. A lot of them will probably end up as food for other animals. Small fish would eat them while some could even survive. That would be an outrageous fortune, but we can't raise all of them, so we let them go into other exhibits.

Hocking said it was likely there could be a hatching boom in the near future now that some of the premature hatchings are out of the way.

"There will be a lot more at once. It's been sporadic hatching, not like the explosion you might expect. Right now they're coming out sometimes a few every hour or less," Hocking said.

The freshly born octopuses are fed a rich soup of plankton.

Ed DeCastro, Alaska SeaLife Center aquarist, said the octopuses are fed hourly by an electronic feeder.

"The octopuses are on a diet of two types of copepods and ground-up krill," he stated in a SeaLife Center press release. "As far as we know, few Giant Pacific Octopuses have been raised from paralarvae to an adult stage."

While an adult octopus is still a long way off, the center is excited about recent, hopeful developments.

"The most difficult part of the process is the post hatching because it's harder to manage their living space," Hocking said.

He added that they also can be picky eaters.

"We have a pantry stocked full of a variety of different things to try."

Right now the one-eighth-inch octopuses are mostly transparent and have spots of reddish pigment. Later they will fill out in red and be able to change their color and to camouflage themselves.

"They can also change their texture from lumpy to silky smooth," he said. "It will be really fun to see them at their small stage before they get big, what they will eat and what their behavior will be like. There is a lot to find out and room for new developments."

According to Hocking, the eight-tentacled babies look like little squid while they're open-water swimming.

"When they grow a little bigger they'll settle to the bottom — that takes around three months," he said. "They'll grow and find shelter in things like shells or beer bottles, or whatever small area they can conform to," Hocking said.

Aurora was collected in March 2003 and is now 4 years old. Octopuses get one shot at reproduction, then die once that duty is fulfilled.

"She's doing well, though she is getting smaller. The mothers tend to stop eating at the point of brooding. During that time in the wild they would protect the eggs from starfish, sea stars, fish and crustaceans," Hocking said.

As the process continues, Aurora will continue to deteriorate.

"The salivary glands stop working and the feeding slows, though we are feeding her regularly," he said.

In normal circumstances, she would likely already be dead at this stage in the wild. When she's out of the picture, scientists can focus on the future.

With a new batch of octopuses there is much to learn. Hocking said he looks forward to seeing the developmental stages of raising an octopus to adulthood from its beginning as an egg. Biologists will try new things with the habitat, attempting to mimic the environment in the wild.

"There is some new territory to explore. We'll be taking the best ideas of past research and borrow and adapt to our own unique system," he said.

Aurora and her eggs are on exhibit at the center's Denizens of the Deep exhibit.



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