.Species Update

Captured on Film:  Octopus-Egg Hatching and Young Octopuses Foraging
Rare video footage required months of monitoring to attain
Seward , Alaska , September 2, 2005

Perseverance paid off for Alaska SeaLife Center’s videographers.   After months of monitoring, the Alaska SeaLife Center has captured footage of its tiny octopus eggs hatching and feeding.

Footage of the octopus eggs hatching and young octopus feeding is now available at:

Windows Media Format
Quicktime Format

Windows Media Format
Quicktime Format

Kelly D. O’Brien captured the footage with a special long-term digital recording system set to provide 24 hour monitoring of the octopus enclosure and octopus eggs.   The 29 second long video clips required over 82 hours of digital video footage since April.

Aurora ’s offspring have mostly emerged from their tiny egg capsules at the Alaska SeaLife Center and many young octopuses are now eating food – a critical watershed in their road to potential survival to adulthood.

Aurora spent many months fanning and caring for her eggs until they hatched. Aurora had stopped eating for a number of weeks, was deteriorating quickly, and was euthanized out of concern for her comfort on 19 August 2005. Some two dozen hatched octopus young remain a legacy to her life and fans.

Garnering international attention for their eight-armed, cold water encounter in May 2004, the octopuses J-1 and Aurora and their eggs have been a source of continuing interest for fans and researchers of cephalopods around the world.  Still, even at this point, potential for young octopus surviving to adulthood remains limited to low. 

With reservations, visitors can schedule a special tour to touch and feed the Center’s live octopuses in exclusive behind the scenes octopus encounters. 

July 3 , 2005 update: New Octopus News from the ASLC Aquarists

Aurora 's eggs appear to have mostly hatched out with a few clusters still containing embryos still to emerge.  Aurora has become more active again, often seen stretching out across the tank window.  The numbers of emergent paralarvae vary daily but the end of the hatch appears in sight. 

As for the developing paralarvae held elsewhere in the SeaLife Center , we are working with a group that now contains 90+ individuals in a rearing system designed for feeding and long-term rearing.  Our aquarists report there are some that have grown larger noticeably feeding on a diet of mashed krill, Mysis shrimp and clam.   

Additionally many more of Aurora 's brood have been added to an outdoor tank with natural plankton production during the long Alaska summer days to more or less fend for themselves.  This group is less accessible for frequent evaluation until later in the year but may surprise us with survivors that grow and settle out of the water column to live on the tank bottom.   

Photo shows mostly empty eggs left on the wall on which Aurora attached  them over a year ago.

Here is current news in the octopus rearing arena here at the Center, May 30, ‘05

Paralarva count on May 30 – 178 babies swimming and feeding in their rearing tank and they appear to have hearty appetites.

Most of these little swimmers were transferred from a separate group of Aurora’s eggs housed in a holding tank. However, Aurora’s own egg brood also continues to emerge in view of SeaLife Center visitors. This photo shows her Monday afternoon after a short bit of activity twirling her arms and casting off old sucker disk skin. She momentarily opened up her arms widely enough to allow a better examination of a few of her many remaining unhatched eggs.

Currently, the paralarvae are eating suspended daphnia and live brine shrimp nauplii larvae periodically pulsed into the rearing tank. In addition, many of the baby octopuses are now also able to rip pieces off of small shrimp suspended in the rearing tank for a few hours. This latter food item is easy to add and remove before it becomes a mess to clean up. We are still testing and evaluating various food types recognizing that probably no single food item may be a universal diet. The oncoming challenge will be anticipating and matching different foods to the growing animals’ changing food preferences.

May 16, 2005 update: New Octopus News from the ASLC Aquarists

As of Mother's Day, May 8, after a lull in hatching among the octopus egg groups we have been watching, Aurora's own brood began hatching in larger numbers. Within a few hours more than 50 were seen swimming in the aquarium and half of these were removed to a rearing area. Others were released into other aquariums at the SeaLife Center. Over the week, smaller numbers have emerged and are selectively removed, as well.

Over the last ten days, there has been some active feeding by paralarvae seen in the rearing tanks. They seem to go after a light-colored crustacean called Daphnia and fish eggs from capelin that are thawed from a frozen state and let drift into the larval rearing water. Another food item that shows promise is a larger crustacean species, a type of mysid shrimp we feed here to other specimens. The larger food seems to attract some paralarvae to approach it and grab on, hopefully eating a chunk or two in the process. These bigger food items are also easy to add and remove so the food is at its freshest all the time.

.We are gearing up to begin photographing the swimming paralarvae beginning next week. At this point, they don't look significantly different from the ones that began hatching a month ago.

Octopus Eggs Begin to Hatch, Octo-mom Aurora Holds on for Arrival of Young

Aurora is still keeping watch over her remaining unhatched eggs. Guests arrived over the weekend to see the nearly one thousand paralarvae that have hatched over the last few weeks. The majority of the eggs are still developing. Several hundred of the newly hatched octopuses are being raised in ASLC’s larval rearing lab and the rest have been released in to an outdoor holding tank which contains a large amount of natural zooplankton for the young to eat. We haven’t seen any definite signs that the paralarvae are eating or growing yet. Many of the paralarvae are hatching with their yolks not yet completely ingested, a possible sign that this first wave of hatchlings are slightly premature. The remaining eggs are expected to hatch soon and we will keep everyone updated on their progress.

Alaska SeaLife Center Aquarists are Proud Care-givers to Eight Armed Wonders

Commitment sometimes appears with an eight-armed morphology.

Seward, Alaska, April 13, 2005

Click the link for a short video of the new Octo-babies! http://www.alaskasealife.org/gc_images/visitors/paralarva_swimming.wmv

Moms everywhere know how difficult it is to keep their children close and protected. For Aurora, the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Giant Pacific Octopus, that task has been a challenge since she first began the journey to motherhood last May – even with eight caring arms and unparalleled flexibility.

Aurora’s maternal commitment has paid off with several eggs hatching over the last 48 hours and many others still under the gentle fanning care of Aurora’s undulating body.

Despite the fact that most Giant Pacific Octopuses do not live as long as Aurora, despite the fact that few Giant Pacific Octopuses live for long after producing eggs, and despite the fact that almost no Giant Pacific Octopus in the wild remains in contact with its brood for almost a year, Aurora has held on despite long odds, and her offspring have begun to emerge from their tiny egg capsules at the Alaska SeaLife Center exactly 10 months after the encounter with the male octopus, J-1.

“Colder average water temperature over the past ten months has had an effect on growth,” says Richard Hocking, Aquarium Curator, “but the timing is appropriate with the appearance of plankton in the wild.”

. Garnering international attention for their eight-armed, cold water encounter last May, the octopuses J-1 and Aurora and their eggs have been a source of continuing interest for fans and researchers of cephalopods around the world. Still, even at this point, potential for surviving octopus is limited to low.

“We agreed on a strategy for rearing the octopus eggs in three separate tanks to protect our potential for survivors,” says Hocking. “Survival of offspring from some egg laying marine animals is really low, but with octopus it is perhaps a little better with maternal care, still it is a harsh world at this stage.”

“Right now the newly hatched octopuses are being fed every hour by electronic, automatic feeder,” says Ed DeCastro, Alaska SeaLife Center aquarist. “The octopuses are on a diet of two types of copepods and ground-up krill.”

“As far as we know,” adds DeCastro, “few Giant Pacific Octopuses have been raised from paralarvae to an adult stage.” While an adult octopus is still a long way down the road, the Alaska SeaLife Center is bustling with excitement over recent, hopeful developments.

. “Mom’s come in all sizes, shapes, and colors and we are really proud that we have an eight-armed cephalopod that is pretty flexible on all accounts,” says Jason Wettstein, spokesperson for the Alaska SeaLife Center. “Giant Pacific Octopus like Aurora can change colors, shapes, and can fit through any opening larger than their beak,” he adds.

Aurora and her eggs are now on exhibit in Seward Alaska at the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Denizens of the Deep exhibit. Visitors can see Aurora and her eggs now, or with reservations, can schedule a special tour to touch and feed the Center’s other live octopuses in exclusive behind the scenes octopus encounters. More information and additional background information is available at: http://www.alaskasealife.org/documents/Media/Octopuseggs.html

Octopus update: Direct from the ASLC Aquarists - March 21, 2005

Aurora still guards her developing eggs which are now showing well-developed larval octopuses within. She does not eat much any longer, indicating her life is coming close to an end, and although we're not sure of a beginning hatch date yet expectations are that there will be hatching in April. Aurora is likely to hold out until then. Many of the embryos have rotated 180° already, indicating hatching may be just weeks away.

Below is a current description and photos of egg development progress as of March 23, prepared by Aquarist Ed DeCastro here at the SeaLife Center:

"Two hundred and ninety three long days have passed since Aurora laid her first eggs but in the past few weeks the aquarium department has noticed some of the most exciting developments to date. The former red eyespots are now beginning to change into more complex eyes, each arm now has rows of small sucker disks, a black dot at the back of the mantle is probably the ink gland, and some important internal organs are now visible."

Status on Giant Pacific octopus Aurora for week of February 15, 2005

The octopus embryos have begun to rotate within the eggs. The photo on the left shows an octopus embryo that was sampled on 2-14-05. The mantle is covered in red chromatophores and is now situated in the rounded posterior end of the egg. The photograph on the right shows an embryo which was photographed last week. It is in a more familiar position with its chromatophore-covered mantle in the pointed anterior end of the egg. Embryo rotation is a natural stage in octopus development and it is a sign that the embryos will probably begin to hatch in 6-8 weeks. As the embryos grow closer to hatching the likelihood of them hatching prematurely is increased by disturbances outside the egg. A disturbance, as small as Aurora moving, may cause the eggs to hatch. Be careful not disturb Aurora while watching the tank, but keep an eye out for newly hatched paralarva!

NEW Status on Giant Pacific octopus Aurora for week of January 10, 2004

Aurora has continued brooding thousands of eggs over the holidays and into the new year. Every week, we examine a few eggs closely under magnification in the lab. Some are preserved in order to build a development series which interested parties can study for years to come. We try to photograph each week's progress. For instance last week, stronger pigment in the eye regions and sharper definition in limb development was visible although no suckers are yet on the short nubs of arms.

This week, Aurora did something we haven't seen for awhile. She rotated her body away from the egg strings and quickly shed off old sucker disk skin. Octopuses do this periodically through most of their lifespan, by twirling and writhing their arms and casting off old skin from the suckers. The replacement skin leaves these highly sensitive organs much more pliable and capable of grabbing and holding. Considering Aurora's condition now that she is in her final weeks it appears significant that she still cares for herself as a younger animal would.

Status on Giant Pacific octopus Aurora for week of November 30, 2004

Aquarists at the Alaska SeaLife Center had all but abandoned the hope that octopus Aurora's thousands of eggs laid since last June were fertile. No sign of embryonic development was visible through September. However, just as we were beginning the process of removing Aurora and her eggs to make room for another octopus in the large aquarium, a keen-eyed observer in the department saw red spots within the egg capsules. Upon closer scrutiny, these were revealed as growing eyespots on the head region of the embryos. A quick trip to the microscope confirmed that, indeed, there are many live embryos developing at a stage where the head region can clearly be differentiated from the mantle. There are no arms or suckers evident yet but we can observe the little embryos' mantles moving as they shift around within the eggs.

At this time, we have put on hold any major tank changes until either Aurora dies or the eggs closely approach hatching. We still want to recover living hatchlings that could otherwise be lost in the large aquarium system, so removing eggs just before hatching is a likely step.

At this point, too, Aurora continues to groom and clean her clutch of eggs, ignoring any that fall to the bottom or were laid elsewhere in the aquarium earlier in the summer. The majority of fertile eggs still remain in the large egg clusters hanging on the wall of her preferred nest site. Visitors can see these eggs frequently although Aurora is pretty aware of activity nearby and reacts defensively to even a flashlight beam on the eggs by covering them over with her arms and suckers.

Status on Giant Pacific octopuses J-1 and Aurora for week of September 13, 2004

Aurora continues to brood her substantial clutch of eggs but they show no obvious development yet. She has continued to move rocks around in the tank and cleans the eggs periodically by swishing them around with her arms and blowing water at them with her siphon.

J-1, the male introduced Aurora to in May, died on September 8th. We performed a necropsy on him the next day and found he was still holding nearly 40 spermatophores in his mantle. He also was virtually parasite-free internally. His cause of death was old age, and at over 5 years and 4 months in our care, he was very old for a Giant Pacific octopus indeed, considering he had months of larval and post-larval life before we found him. We saved some interesting tissue for educational use including his beak and the radula, a rasp-like tongue used in processing their food.

Status on Giant Pacific octopuses J-1 and Aurora for week of July 27, 2004

Sorry, no little octopus embryos seen. But, she is doing some weird stuff with rocks:

Aurora still continues to lay more eggs, although fertility is not evident when they are examined. We have not seen any development in eggs laid earlier in June, suggesting that these are not viable. She also has apparently abandoned several groups of eggs in another area of her tank as well as some below her which have become detached and drifted down to the bottom substrate.

Her protective instincts seem intact, however, perhaps in a different light. On July 26 and 27, she began picking up fairly hefty rocks from the bottom of the aquarium, carrying them up to her perch in one upper corner of the aquarium, and dropping them one after the other, forming a pile below the egg brood. It appeared at first that she was taking deliberate aim at a Mottled Sea Star which was grazing on the eggs along the bottom to the extent that the sea star was buried in the rock mound, later extricating itself and ambling away. She repeated this rock dropping activity for over an hour, using the same rocks over and again. Aurora has continued with the rock holding and dropping today, Tuesday, but the activity seems short lived, for less than an hour.

J-1, male and brief partner of Aurora in May, continues to welcome visitors off exhibit, behind the scenes, in his own 400 gallon tank.

Status on Giant Pacific octopuses J-1 and Aurora for week of July 13, 2004

. May 11, 2004, a 3+ year old female giant Pacific octopus ( Enteroctopus dofleini) named Aurora was introduced to the cold seawater exhibit aquarium of a 5+ year old male named J-1. They stayed in what was thought to be a mating embrace for 8 hours before separating and have had little contact after except for brief touching episodes. Whether Aurora was impregnated by him can not be determined although his spermatophores (tube containing sperm) that he passed to her were seen during this time.

From May 11 to June 8, 2004 the animals were in the same aquarium. On June 8, J-1 was removed to a large holding tank since he had lately shown some aggressive signs toward her. Aquarists dimmed lighting in the exhibit tank now containing only Aurora in hopes she would be encouraged more to lay eggs in reduced light and without the presence of J-1.

June 12, Aurora began laying small white eggs against the side wall of the aquarium. This has continued throughout this week, with several clusters containing 50 ? 100 eggs apiece now adhering to the fiberglass rock wall she is using as her ?den?.

These eggs will be periodically sampled to assess whether fertile or not and if so, the stage of embryonic development. Of course, we are eager to have some fertile eggs hatch but our hopes are tempered with realistic appreciation of the difficulties in nurturing larval cephalopods to adulthood. In nature only a few survive the planktonic stage after hatching and numbers are cut further by predators even when they settle to the bottom and begin finding shelter in dens. We know that far fewer will survive than the thousands of eggs that possibly could be laid by Aurora.

For the time being, both animals are being fed diets similar to their past fare here ? Dungeness crab, squid, clams and occasional fish. In the wild, this species of octopus stops eating around the time of reproduction and females fast through the time their eggs are incubating. About the time of hatch, females usually expire. Males may linger on for a few months longer, showing increased activity although they are also becoming senescent and die, typically within five years of age. While both animals continue to appear robust, we accept that they will soon begin a fairly rapid decline.

J-1 in particular is a remarkably vigorous example of a giant Pacific octopus. Rather than suggest that he represents a record beating age, it is more likely indicative of how much we yet have to learn about these animals, most of which have been held and studied far south of here.

July 13th: Three weekly examinations of Aurora's eggs layed to date have revealed no development as yet. They appear to be infertile eggs with just yolk inside. Although she still stays with the eggs she layed first, she appears to have abandoned eggs layed later elsewhere in the aquarium.

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