NEWPORT — On Tuesday, Hatfield Marine Science Center aquarists returned an octopus to the ocean after she began to show signs she was nearing old age, the time when the giant cephalopods breed.
Hatfield is famous for its octopus denizen, which can be viewed anytime via the center’s Octocam, but the eight-armed, intelligent marine animals are actually short-term guests. Because giant Pacific octopuses only live for three to five years, the center returns them to the ocean once they begin to show signs of senescence so they can find a mate — octopuses only breed once, toward the end of their lives.
Colleen Hill, senior aquarist at Hatfield, said, “A big part of the aquarist’s job is to get to know the animals. We actually have a giant pacific octopus health matrix that we follow,” which they use to evaluate the creature’s condition on a daily basis. The objective matrix also helps to eliminate the bias factor — Hill noted that caretakers can become personally attached — while determining their overall health and the right time to free them.
The octopus released this week at the docks by Rogue Brewery is identified as GPO 19-02 — the second giant Pacific octopus received by the center during 2019 — and she’s been at Hatfield since April of last year. Since the center closed its doors to the public in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s been engaged in an art project. A former aquarist student from Oregon Coast Community College designed a system that attaches bungee chords via a series of pulleys and levers to a set of paintbrushes, which are connected to a Mr. Potatohead toy placed in the octopus’s tank. The toy is frozen in clam juice to make it more enticing to the octopus, and her play with Mr. Potatohead moves the paintbrushes up and down and side to side, coloring the canvas outside the tank.
Her tank is now empty — a successor is in holding, but staff is taking a week or so to clean and rearrange the habitat. Soon the public will be able to view feedings and playtime again via the Octocam at tinyurl.com/wvm5xf5. Aquarists also post regular updates to the Aquatic Animal Health Program Facebook page — they’re still busy tending to animal residents, even if the center is currently closed to the public — at tinyurl.com/ybxg3n6l. You can also find center updates on its Facebook page at tinyurl.com/y99r95ba, as well as the page for Oregon Sea Grant, tinyurl.com/yae4o2yp.