Our Little Octopus
Two months ago, I had an inquiry from a local university student about coldwater Atlantic octopus. This young woman is working on a Ph.D. at the University of Maine and she was wondering if Gulf of Maine, Inc. could help her source some live octopus specimens. At the time I told her that in my 10 years of operation I had only been able to acquire 2 or 3 octopi. Therefore I was not overly optimistic about our ability to find these neat little mollusc specimens, but that we would give it a try.
The next day, I started to put the word out to my network of local divers and fishermen. Like me, they mostly commented that they hadn't seen any octopus in a long time, but they would keep an eye out. In our bays, local fishermen dredge and dive the sea floor for sea scallops and sea urchins. By doing so, they dislodge and scrape up a variety of species. It is in their interest to keep an eye out for the critters that put $$$ in their pockets - seafood. I, on the other hand on the lookout for ALL SPECIES. It is thrilling to witness the sheer variety of species that come up in each of the 'haulbacks' of their heavy steel bottom dredges. An interested collector like Tidepool Tim can find dozens of sea squirts, sponges, stars, sea cukes, lampshells, barnacles, crabs, seaweeds, fish, clams, and a million other species mixed in. It's like going to Toys-R.....Specimens-R-Us!!!
So the big news was this - I got a call and a fisherman came by with a beautiful little octopus! It was no bigger than the palm of my hand and its mantle the size of an egg. Fully live and squirming - I got to hold it in my hand before I transferred it to our tank. The fisherman got paid and we got our octopus - awesome!
Now this was a thrilling experience for me as I gently handled the little creature. I could feel the 8 arms touching my hands and those little suction cups pulling against my skin. The mantle of the octopus was pulsing and its siphons opening and closing. I was a bit freaked out to hold it for long as I wondered if it could harm me. According to what I have read - all octopi are venomous! Very few are toxic to humans, but I did not want to take any chances. An octopus does not have any skeleton, but it does have a pretty serious 'beak' structure just like a squid. I did not want this little guy to be taking an interest in my palm flesh - and so plop! I got her right into our coldwater tank.
Once back in saltwater it was easy to see what a strong swimmer an octopus is. With pulses of her mantle and the directioning of her siphon this octopus could cook right along through the water! She pulsed perhaps 5 times across 6' of tank in seconds. Then opening her tentacles like a flower she plopped down on a scallop shell to rest. In seconds she curled up her tentacles like a birds nest and proceeded to blend into the surroundings. It was then that I really got a close up view of her skin and eyes. What a beauty she was - it appeared that she had blue mascara or eyeliner on. A blue eyed octopus ?
It turns out that her eyes were not blue it is just her eyelids - if that is what those structures called....? She did settle into our tank quite nicely and hung out for a few days before heading off to UMaine for her graduate work. I was able to feed her some bits of clam and snails, though I never actually saw her eating them. In the morning the food tidbits were cleaned up and so I assume she had eaten them.
So this was a first for old Tidepool Tim; and though I have never found an octopus in a Maine Tidepool - I suppose it is likely that they could be found there. Octopi are adept at camoflauge and masters of finding small crevasses for hiding places. Not only can they change the color of their skin pores to match the surroundings, their gelatinous bone free body allows them to stretch and squeeze themselves into the tiniest of spaces. Watching the ocean floor from these hide-outs allows them to avoid predators like a big cod or wolffish. Peeking out of their lair does allow them to see their prey species and quickly jet out to scarf up a passing crab, shrimp, or sandworm - yum!
Supplying Octopi is new for Gulf of Maine, Inc. This may not be a common occurrence, but we will do our best to support marine education, aquariums, and research. Our friend who is studying these little octopi at UMaine may someday be a famous "OCTOPOLOGIST" - who knows? For now we are thrilled to learn more about another coldwater marine species and to work with our local fishermen!