Ollie the Octopus Meets the Giant Pacific Octopus at Steinhart Aquarium

Hello, my name is Ollie the Octopus. Today I’m interviewing the “new” giant pacific octopus  (GPO) at Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California.

I say “new” because he’s new to the aquarium but already a few months old. Here’s my interview:

Ollie: Hello my octopus friend! How are you?

Giant Pacific Octopus: I’m doing fine. I’m enjoying my new digs.

Ollie: Where are you from?

GPO: I’m from the cold waters off the Pacific Northwest (of the U.S.)

Ollie: What was your journey like getting from your old home to your new home?

GPO: It was quite exciting. I meet human divers every now and then. But this time I got caught in a net by one of them. One second I’m playing with the diver’s hand, and the next I was feeling the sunlight at the surface. 

I was placed in a dark container. It felt like forever, but forever to an octopus is much different than to a human.  Most octopuses live only a year but GPO’s in captivity can live 3-5 years. So forever for me might only be a human day.

In my dark container, I was in a plastic bag. The water sloshed around a lot. I tried to sleep but couldn’t tell if it was night (when I’m usually awake) or day (when I’m asleep as I’m nocturnal). 

In any case, eventually I saw light again. I was placed in my new home, a tank full of cold water. I love and need the many rocks to hide in. Though I prefer my favorite corner near the window and water outlet.

Ollie: How is it getting used to your new home?

GPO: I hid at first. But once a day I would get to feel and taste a human hand and arm. It’s so much fun. My 2000 suckers not only feel but also taste! Each sucker has more taste receptors than a human tongue. And each human tastes different. Not enough mucus on them though in my opinion.

The kelp (a type of seaweed) in my tank tastes different than back home in the wild. Wonder why?

Ollie: Oh, I think it’s plastic and not real.

GPO: Makes sense.

Ollie: What do you get fed?

GPO: I get fish, squid and my favorite, blue crabs. I get food every other day. I don’t have to hunt, it’s quite the luxury. 

Ollie: Do you get bored?

GPO: No, I get toys.  My favorites are a plastic airplane and helicopter. I grab them and put them in front of the jets of water and watch them move around the tank. I also get closed containers with food inside. I rip off the lid in seconds and sometimes there’s a capelin (a small type of fish) inside.

Ollie: Do you miss the ocean?

GPO: It’s weird but I don’t have the whole ocean to explore anymore. I’ve explored every nook and cranny of my new tank. The only thing that changes is which human brings me food, plays with me and gives me toys.

I can see outside my tank—more humans, but I can’t touch them. 

Ollie: Do you think about escaping? Octopuses in aquariums are known to do that…

GPO: Around the edges of my tank there’s bumpy stuff my suckers can’t hold onto (astroturf). Although most animals live in the present moment, octopuses have a great memory. We can navigate to new areas of the ocean floor and still find our way back to our den. 

And we remember which humans bring us food!

Ollie: Thanks for meeting with me today!

GPO: My pleasure! Come back anytime to visit me.

Note from Ollie the Octopus on his second visit to Steinhart Aquarium: The giant pacific octopus is now almost a year old and has gone from 8 pounds to approximately 19 pounds! We octopuses grow really quickly, from plankton-sized to 20 pounds in the span of a year.

More from Ollie the Octopus:

My Octopus Teacher Review by Ollie the Octopus

Ollie the Octopus on International Cephalopod Awareness Days

Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA

Book Review: Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori R. Snyder

Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori R. Snyder
Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori R. Snyder

“The Circus at the End of the Sea” by Lori R. Snyder is a heartwarming, delightful and joy-of-a-book to read. It’s a middle grade fantasy book (ages 8-12 years old) about magic on Venice Beach, California.

Although I read MG books extensively because I write in that genre, I ordinarily wouldn’t pick up a fantasy book about magic. But the main character, Maddy, gains a cephalopod sidekick in the blue octopus with yellow spots named Ophelia. I instantly fell in love with this charming, protective and lovable sidekick who sits on Maddy’s shoulder.

Ophelia is fashioned after the real-life mimic octopus, who “mimics” real animals to escape predators. It can become sea snake, lionfish, or flatfish to name a few. (Search “mimic octopus on YouTube for some fascinating videos!) Ophelia is an octopus living in a magical world, so she can squirt magical ink and turn into words!

The protagonist, Maddy, has seen magic in the ordinary world her entire life. As an orphan shuttled around different group homes, she has learned to keep this ability secret. Until one day she is drawn to the end of a pier in Venice Beach during the beginning of a storm, and she discovers Il Circo delle Strade, the Circus at the End of the Sea.

There she discovers a magical circus which boasts a number of unique characters including a muse and guide named Vanessa that gives her magical leg warmers. She embraces her magical abilities and begins to find out the mystery of the silver bracelet she can’t remove and was given to her by the parents who abandoned her as a newborn. She even learns why she has a heart condition she needs medication for.

Besides Ophelia, her best cephalopod friend, she meets her best human friend Skeeter, who is also a skateboarder. He wants to become a part of the circus but is too young. He too is an orphan. Skeeter and Maddy bond over that and being able to see the magic all around them.

I wasn’t expecting spiritual philosophy in a fantasy children’s book, but there’s a good balance of seeing magic in the ordinary, to finding out your true nature and discovering real friendships.

There is never a dull moment in Circus at the End of the Sea, whether it’s quiet contemplative moments, or a race on a roller coaster through the clouds. There is also the Bridge of Sighs that Maddy must cross and face her fears in order to reach the Heart at the End of the World. Most of all, this book is about about possibilities, and that our destinies are what we make of them.


I won’t give anything else away, but if you are intrigued, check out your local library or independent bookseller.
This is the Amazon link Circus at the End of the Sea. It comes out October 19, 2021.

The end notes are about the real Venice Beach, California, which is a character all onto itself in this book. I haven’t been there before but feel I have thanks to this book!

I know the author of this book, Lori R. Snyder, who is also a marine biologist and writer. She is the founder of the Writer’s Happiness Movement, which does free online writer’s retreats and has free yoga over zoom among many other wonderful things. I do her weekly 5 minute Writer’s Happiness Exercises as often as I can.

Please visit Lori’s website at Writer’s Happiness Movement or on Instagram at @writershappiness or Twitter at @writersHM for more information about the Writer’s Happiness Movement!

Octopus Throw & Target Things At One Another

Octopus Throw and Target Each Other

I’m Sid, a common Sydney octopus. I live off Australia in an area nicknamed “Octopolis” by humans.

A whole bunch of us octopuses live in this sandy area. There’s this one octopus, let’s call him “George,” who tries to mate with me.

One day he was particularly persistent. My eggs weren’t ready for fertilizing that day, so I resisted his advances. But he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

So I threw silt at him using a stream of water from my siphon. My siphon is a wondrous contraption—it helps me move when I shoot a jet of water out of it, helps me excavate my den, get rid of waste (my own and food debris) and also get rid of unwanted males!

I shot water out of my siphon and aimed it towards the silt beneath me and voila! A sand storm was directed towards George.

But he wasn’t getting the picture. I sent more silt flying towards him once the current took away my first try.

I’ve got to hand it to him, he ducked at least four times and was successful at dodging on two. I hurled silt ten times and hit him on 5 occasions. After the tenth time, he finally got that I wasn’t interested.

George threw a shell out into the ocean in frustration. We octopuses don’t retaliate (shh! at least the humans haven’t seen us do that!).

But here’s the exciting news that octopus throw and target things at one another. Only a “handful” of other species, including chimpanzees, actually target individuals of the same species.

Not bad company for a mere invertebrate, huh? We only make up 97% of all animals…

For more information see the New Scientist’s “Female Octopuses throw things at males that are harassing them”

Also see “10 Interesting Octopus Facts”

My Octopus Teacher Review by Ollie the Octopus

my octopus teacher review
My Octopus Teacher review by Ollie the Octopus

My Octopus Teacher Review

Hello my name is Ollie the Octopus. Unlike my counterpart featured in the Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” I have a name. I’m male though, and she was female—she laid eggs at the end of her life. While I wouldn’t have minded mating with her, we live halfway around the world from each other—her off of the South Africa coast, and me off of the California coast off of the USA.

We’re not villains!

So what does an octopus think of a documentary? Well, I’ve never watched TV, so I can only speak through my human translator (or is she an octopus translator?). I’m just glad we octopuses are not just thought of as villains (see Ursula in the Little Mermaid), food (octopus bowls in Japanese restaurants) or as slimy, disgusting creatures.

Octopuses are clever and intelligent!

We are now seen as the clever, intelligent and incredible creatures that we are, woo hoo! From what I’m told, some humans were horrified or disappointed that Craig Foster didn’t try and save his octopus teacher from a shark attack. He didn’t want to mess with nature.

Messing with nature?

But he did. He permanently scared her from one den at the beginning of their “friendship,” and continually put her life in possible danger when interacting with her. And especially when taking her to the surface when he took a much-needed breath of fresh air, he was exposing her to possible predators.

Changing natural behaviors?

But that she decided to interact with Craig at all was her decision. She could have stayed hidden and there would have been no documentary. Having her life permanently captured digitally was well worth any risk to her life. Did it change any of her natural behaviors? It did, but the time Craig spent with her was small in comparison to the time she spent being “wild.”

Octopuses love enrichment!

You wouldn’t have empathy for me otherwise, nor would you like to hear about how octopuses in captivity solve puzzles and open jars and boxes for food. Or how we “play” with objects in our tank (placing an object in the stream of water in our tank over and over).

We’re, um, cannibals

But you probably didn’t know that we can be cannibals, which I think makes octopus farming a tricky and controversial venture. Not to mention how it complicates the mating game!

We’re camouflaging machines!

We camouflage out of instinct—we’re color blind—but use our wits not to get eaten. We can change color, texture and shape. After all, we’re just a boneless protein snack to any mouth larger than us!

Unexplored ocean

We octopuses are often compared to alien beings. Why humans continue to search for life in space when 95% of the ocean is unexplored by humans or ROV’s (remotely operated vehicles) is beyond me. Octopuses have been eaten forever, yet true empathy for us took until this documentary. What other wonders do the oceans hold for humans?

You can help!

So what can you do for the ocean? Well, less than one digit % of all donations to nonprofits go to ocean conservation charities. Check Charity Navigator for a reputable nonprofit to donate to. A good one is Craig Foster’s nonprofit Sea Change Project and the Sea Save Foundation (My human volunteered there!)

Thanks for reading My Octopus Teacher review. Do you have any questions for me? I’ll answer them in any future blog posts.

Congratulations to My Octopus Teacher for winning many international awards, including the BAFTA and Academy Award for best documentary!

Also see: Ollie the Octopus and the Definition of Ocean Acidification

Interview-Hannah Rosen & Humboldt Squid Communication

Humboldt squid & National Geographic crittercam width=
Crittercam being put on Humboldt Squid photo by:Joel Hollander

On April 18, 2015 I attended MARINE’s (Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education) Ocean Colloquium. There, among many interesting speakers, I heard Hannah Rosen speak about her research on Humboldt Squid communication at Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University. I was fascinated and I later asked if I could interview her for my blog. The following interview was conducted by e-mail:
1. Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be at Hopkins Marine Station.
Hannah Rosen (HR) : I grew up in Pennsylvania, but when I was 11 I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my family. I thought it was pretty much the most amazing place I’d ever been in my life, but never imagined I would someday be working right next door. I went to college at Bucknell University and studied animal behavior. I became fascinated with cephalopods and how smart they are. So I decided to go to graduate school and do research on cephalopod behavior. That’s how I found Dr. Gilly at HMS and decided to do research on squid chromatophores and their use in Humboldt Squid.

2. How did you become interested in studying squid?
HR: I first became interested in octopus after reading about their incredible ability to learn and even play. However, when I did more reading I realized that while there was a lot of research done on octopus and cuttlefish, there almost none done on squid because of how difficult they are to study. I guess I sort of saw this as a challenge and that made me want to be the one to work on this research.

3. How do squid communicate?
HR: Squid communicate mostly through body patterns on their skin. Different species have different colors of the expandable pigments sacs called chromatophores, which they can use like pixels on a screen to create different patterns. They often use these patterns in concert with different body and arm positions, and with light reflecting cells in their skin called iridophores.

4. Why did you study Humboldt squid instead of other cephalopods or squids?
HR: I was interested in Humboldt squid partly because of the interesting dynamic they have within their schools. They are always found in groups, but we don’t know if these groups are static or if members come and go. There is some evidence they hunt together, but they are also very cannibalistic. All these complexities made me think they must have a way to communicate with each other to maintain whatever sort of order that seems to exist. They are also large enough to strap video cameras onto, which makes it a little easier to study them than some other squid.

5. How did you get camera footage of Humboldt squid displaying?
HR: We got that footage using National Geographic’s Crittercam, an animal-borne video package that we put on squid that were caught using a squid jig and hand line. The squid were able to swim freely with the camera, which automatically detached after a few hours and floated to the surface, where we were able to recover it and look at the footage.

6. What do you hope to learn (i.e. what your dissertation is about)?
HR: I’m hoping to learn something about how Humboldt squid use their chromatophores, both for communication and camouflage. I am also comparing some of the anatomy of the chromatophores in Humboldt squid to that in California market squid to see if some of the differences in how they use their chromatophores translate into physical differences as well.

7. Have you come across any interesting facts about squid during your studies?
HR: I have learned lots of interesting facts about squid! Some things I have learned that aren’t about my particular research is that squid have blue blood instead of red because they use copper instead of iron to transport oxygen. Also, the have three, one chambered hearts instead of one, many chambered heart.

Giant Squid Myths–True or False?

First giant squid filmed in deep sea: photo by Edie Widder/Discovery Channel

1. The eyes of the Giant Squid Architeuthis dux are the size of dinner plates.

*TRUE* Giant Squid eyes are the largest in the animal kingdom.

2. The Giant Squid have tentacles 60 feet long.

*FALSE* The longest measured dead Giant Squid was 43 feet (13 meters) long.

3. Giant Squid are the Kraken of legend that attacked ships and sailors.

*TRUE* to a certain degree, as washed up specimens of Giant Squid have fascinated humans for 2,000 years. They are known to “attack” boats by sticking their tentacles on them, but they have never attacked any humans!

4. Giant Squid attack Sperm Whales.

*TRUE* but probably only in defense. Sperm Whales have been found with sucker disk marks on their skin which proves that these two species tussle. Sperm Whales probably win most battles, as Giant Squid beaks (their only hard part) have been found in their stomachs.

5. Captain Nemo’s encounter with a Giant Squid in Jules Verne’s 1870 novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was inspired by a true event.

*TRUE* in 1861, a French Naval ship encountered a Giant Squid, but Verne’s imagination took over from there!

6. Giant Squid have never been filmed in their natural environment underwater.

*FALSE* in 2012 a Giant Squid was filmed in the Pacific Ocean. Here’s the Discovery Channel’s coverage of a live Giant Squid.

7. A Giant Squid’s beak resembles that of a Parrot.

*TRUE* only a Giant Squid’s beak is made of chitin, which is what the exoskeleton of many insects is made of.

8. When a Giant Squid swallows its food, the food goes past its brain.

*TRUE* A Giant Squid’s esophagus (feeding tube that reaches the stomach) goes past its brain!

9. A Giant Squid’s feeding tentacles are 2x its body length.

*TRUE* A Giant Squid has 8 arms and two long feeding tentacles with clubs at the end.

10. Giant Squid eat other Giant Squid.

*TRUE* Giant Squid are cannibals!

For more information visit Giant Squid Legends

Smithsonian page on Giant Squid

10 Awesome Cuttlefish Facts

pharaoh cuttlefish, cuttlefish facts
Pharaoh Cuttlefish (photo by Cherilyn Chin)

10 Awesome Cuttlefish Facts

1. Cuttlefish are cephalopods, not fish. Cephalopods include octopus, squid and nautilus.

2. Cuttlefish, along with most cephalopods, are the ocean’s most intelligent invertebrates.

3. Cuttlebone, is lightweight and found in the body of a cuttlefish. Cuttlebone is used by pet birds to get calcium.

4. Cuttlefish have green-blue blood and 3 hearts!

5. A cuttlefish’s camouflage is so amazing that it can take on a checkerboard pattern placed beneath it.

6. Cuttlefish are color blind.

7. Cuttlefish taste with their suckers.

8. Cuttlefish have 8 arms and 2 long tentacles used for feeding.

9. The largest cuttlefish is the Australian giant cuttlefish, which is the size and shape of an American football.

And the last cuttlefish fact is:

10. Cuttlefish eyes have W shaped eyelids so they can see in front of them and behind them at the same time.

See my review of the Tentacles Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

See the Anatomy of a Cuttlefish from PBS’s NOVA special, Kings of Camouflage

Tentacles Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

bigfin reef squid
Bigfin Reef Squid photo by: Cherilyn Jose

The Tentacles exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium contains many species of cephalopods from oceans around the world. Cephalopods include Octopus, Squid, Cuttlefish, and Nautilus. Many species in this exhibit have never been on display before.

I am a cephalopod lover. I have even taught a red octopus to open a jar to get live food inside! So I was thrilled to see species I have never seen in person before, especially the Wunderpus and Bigfin Reef Squid.

I went on a busy Saturday afternoon on April 26, 2014, and the following is the species list that day. The aquarium is going to vary the species list during Tentacles’ run depending on availability. I wanted to review the whole exhibit because I was unsure if I would be able to see each ceph on exhibit given that they are masters of disguise, and many are shy. I am happy to report I saw an animal at each exhibit!

The first tank of the exhibit is the Bigfin Reef Squid. They are housed together in a large tank with many squid visible at once. They are one of the few species of squid that like to school. They school to fool predators into thinking that they are bigger. They were changing colors, and their outreached tentacles looked ready to strike any moment!

Did you know squid and cuttlefish have 8 arms or legs, and 2 long club-like tentacles that strike out to capture their meals?

The next tank was the Day Octopus tank. This ceph was the hardest to find in all the exhibits. That’s a bit ironic as it is supposed to be active during the day, while most other cephalopods are active at night! I saw part of its white body and eye hidden in the reef rocks.

The amazing Wunderpus was next. This is an amazing octopus that changes form to mimic other poisonous creatures, including a lionfish, banded sole, and a sea snake. It was active and crawling along the window so I could see its underside of suckers and mouth.

The Red Octopus is common to Monterey Bay and other cold regions of the ocean. This one was awake and was crawling along the window.

There are 2 tanks of Giant Pacific Octopus. Both were squished into the upper right window corner. One was fully visible, and the other only had some suckers showing. Be careful here, as it is dark and people easily run into each other. The largest recorded GPO was 13 feet (4 meters) long!

I was surprised the Chambered Nautilus tank was so large and full of dozens of nautilus. I have never seen so many at once. I also haven’t seen them stuck to the ledges in the exhibit before.

I love the Flamboyant Cuttlefish, it is worth finding a video about them. I have seen some before at Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences where they were in a tank that didn’t overwhelm them. Here, the tank was much too large and the inches long cuttlefish got lost in the tank. They were visible, though it took most people awhile to spot them. When they are excited, their colors are surreal, and their flashing moves like a conveyer belt along their body. They also are known for “walking” across the sea floor.

I had never seen a Stumpy Cuttlefish. They were small, only a few inches long, and they were camouflaged and hiding in the reef rocks. They were readily visible though.

The last tank was for the Common Cuttlefish, a species I have taken care of before. One cuttlefish even accidentally caught my hand in their tentacles once! There were dozens at the “cute” size of 3-4 inches long. They were floating near the fake sea grass, and the ones buried under the sand were visible to visitors.

It was so busy the day I was there that I didn’t read very many signs, or stop to enjoy the artwork, some of it created just for this exhibit. Overall I give the exhibit an A+. The Tentacles exhibit is worth the trip to Monterey, especially for cephalopod lovers!

10 Interesting Octopus Facts

10 Terrific Facts about Octopuses
10 Interesting Octopus Facts photo by: Cherilyn Chin

10 Interesting Octopus Facts

1. The preferred plural of “Octopus” is “Octopuses” by cephalopod and octopus lovers.

2. Octopuses are considered the earth’s most intelligent invertebrate. They are also very dexterous, and can be taught to unscrew the lid to a jar to get food inside! (I’ve actually done it!)

3. Due to having no bones and being an invertebrate, a Giant Pacific Octopus can fit through a 2 inch hole (which is the size of its beak or mouth).

4. Octopuses are masters of camouflage-not only can they match the pattern of the background they are on, but they can change texture too (Amazing octopus camouflage video here).

5. Octopuses have 3 hearts and blue-green blood.

6. A octopus not only feels with the suckers on its 8 arms, but it also tastes with its suckers too!

7. An octopus’ 8 arms move independently of its brain.

8. Most species of octopus are nocturnal (sleep during day, active at night) but some species like the Day Octopus (Octopus cyanea) are awake during the day.

9. The largest octopus on record was a Giant Pacific Octopus that weighed 600 pounds (272 kg) and arm-to-arm span was 30 foot wide (9m).

10. There are 300 species of octopuses ocean-wide.

For more on the octopuses’ cousins, the cephalopods see:
Meet Shelley the Chambered Nautilus

Vampire Squid: I’m No Vampire, I’m Not Even a Squid!

First Video Filmed of a Giant Squid in the Ocean

First Video Filmed of Giant Squid in the Ocean

First giant squid filmed in deep sea: photo by Edie Widder/Discovery Channel

I have been called by many names, including sea monster, kraken, calamari, and dinner. I am a giant squid (Architeuthis spp.). I am a highly intelligent cephalopod. My cousins include the octopus, cuttlefish, and chambered nautilus.

Despite my ancestors washing up on shore or getting caught in fishing nets, we have managed to stay elusive to humans. Truthfully it hasn’t been that hard, as humans have explored less than 5 percent of the oceans. Most of the ocean is the pitch dark deep sea in which no sunlight penetrates. That is where I live.

No human had ever filmed a giant squid alive deep in the ocean until recently. They filmed one of my colleagues using a special light that neither humans nor squid can detect, and created a special lure. I’m sure my fellow squid knew that someone was around though. There are always those who love to hog the spotlight in every species!

Here are my impressive stats:

1. My eyes are the size of dinner plates, and are the largest eyes of any animal on earth.

2. Giant squid can grow to lengths of 43-55 feet (13-16.8 meters) measuring from the top of our heads to the tip of our tentacles.

3. Unlike octopus, we have 8 arms plus 2 long feeding tentacles.

4. We have razor sharp rings on all our suckers (those are what leave scars on sperm whales).

5. Giant squid actually do sometime win in epic battles with sperm whales!

6. We are found in all the world’s oceans.

7. Giant squid are quite intelligent.

My octopus cousins are considered the most intelligent invertebrate, but their benthic (living on the bottom) nature makes them easy (and fun!) to keep in captivity. My smaller squid relatives are much harder to keep alive in tanks. Squid may seem less intelligent, but we are really just studied less by humans.

The giant squid footage airs in a documentary that will be broadcast in the US on January 27 on the Discovery Channel. Check your local listings for times.