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

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

Mirror Self Recognition Test and Ocean Animals

dolphin mirror test, mirror self recognition test, self aware animals
Dolphin reacts to own image in mirror

With recent news that the cleaner wrasse might have mirror self-recognition (MSR), I thought I’d write about the ocean animals that have MSR. Bottlenose dolphins and killer whales have MSR for certain. Possible mirror self-recognition ocean animals include manta rays and cleaner wrasses. An ocean animal that failed the mirror self-recognition test is the octopus.

So what is self-recognition? With a mirror, self-aware animals such as chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins recognize themselves and don’t react as if the image is another animal of the same species. Some animals that don’t have self-recognition react to their image in a mirror with aggression or other more positive social behaviors.

The mirror self-recognition test is when a human researcher places a mark somewhere conspicuous on a captive animal. With human babies, they place a paint mark on their foreheads. Starting at 18 months, human babies investigate the mark when they see themselves in a mirror.

Then the researchers place the test animal in front of a mirror and judge from their actions (usually curiosity) if they recognize themselves or not. Here are some examples from the ocean:

Bottlenose dolphins in captivity react to a mirror image by “opening their mouths, sticking out their tongues and showing novel behaviors.” When marked, they investigate the mark on their bodies by moving the marked area towards the mirror.

Killer whales in captivity were shown themselves unmarked in a mirror. Then they were marked. The whales behaved like they expected their appearance to be altered. This showed that they have self-recognition.

Manta rays possibly show mirror self-recognition. When captive manta rays had a mirror placed in their tank, they blew bubbles, which they normally don’t do. They also appeared to investigate their image in the mirror by turning their belly towards the mirror and swimming by the mirror repeatedly.

Cleaner wrasses were injected with a mark, which is how scientists mark fish in their studies. When their throats were marked and a mirror placed in their tank, the cleaner wrasses would rub their throats against the tank. Throat rubbing is not behavior seen in wild cleaner wrasses. When the mirror wasn’t in the tank, the wrasses didn’t rub. So seeing the mark in the mirror caused the throat rubbing and hence cleaner wrasses possibly have self-recognition.

As a side note, the inventor of the mirror self-recognition test, Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York, doesn’t think cleaner wrasses have self-recognition and that the study was flawed. What do you think?

Octopuses haven’t passed the mirror test, but in studies they do orient themselves towards the mirror. Octopuses rely on their sense of touch and don’t rely on vision as much as mammals do, so it makes sense they don’t show mirror self-recognition.

On a personal note, I have gone on scuba dives with manta rays off the coast of Hawaii. I looked them in the eye and saw straight into their soul. It was no different than looking into a dog or cat’s eyes. I knew something was going on behind them. I don’t doubt that manta rays are thinking beings and that they may be self-aware.

Websites consulted:
List of Animals That Have Passed the Mirror Test
Article, “Is this Fish Self-Aware?”

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

Vampire Squid: I’m no vampire, and I’m not even a squid!

”vampire
Vampire Squid (photo by MBARI)

My scientific name is Vampyroteuthis infernalis, which translates to “vampire squid from hell.” Too bad I’m not actually a squid or even an octopus, even though I have characteristics of both. I’m not a vampire either as I don’t suck blood! I do have a vampire-like cloak that I can wrap myself in (see MBARI video, it’s really cool!). As for being from hell, I dare you to live in pitch black darkness at 2000 feet deep (610m) 24/7 and not consider it hell! Just kidding, I am perfectly adapted to life in the deep sea, as my species has been around for millions of years. I am still a cephalopod, a group that includes octopuses, (true) squid, cuttlefish, and nautiluses.

I have been in the news lately because a study found that I eat feces and corpses. They are some of the components of marine snow, the organic bits and pieces that drift down from the surface to the bottom of the ocean. Maybe humans would not eat those things, but food is scarce in the deep sea. I’m constantly on the move, and I trap food in long, sticky, and retractable lines that I cast out from my body. My one inch (2.5cm) wide azure eyes are perfectly adapted for seeing in low, or no, light. I also have dark blue bioluminescent photophores (lights) all over my body. Bioluminescence (i.e. glow-in-the-dark light) is the only source of light in the deep sea.

So like octopuses I have 8 arms, but I don’t have ink sacs. Instead my “ink” is a mucus ball comprised of bioluminescent lights. It works for me when I feel threatened, and besides, black ink in the black deep sea wouldn’t do me much good.

I hope you can appreciate me now that you know I am more than just a feces eating scavenger, as I am one cool and wholly unique species!

Ollie the Octopus on Octopus Day and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Ollie the Octopus
Ollie the Octopus (photo by Cherilyn Chin)

Hi, my name is Ollie and I’m an octopus.  I am excited to hear that October 8 is Octopus Day during International Cephalopod Awareness Days (October 8-10).  I’m glad we’re getting the recognition we deserve, as we’re usually portrayed as villains (or villainesses) or as cute baby toys with our mouths underneath our eyes. Our mouth is actually underneath our head, and in the center of our circle of 8 arms.

I wish I could have compassion (like humans!) for the other life forms in the sea, but in order to survive I only think about myself.  I need avoid being eaten, find enough food to eat every day, and defend my den.  Since I don’t know my birthday and a calendar doesn’t fit inside my modest sized lair, I think Octopus Day is a good time for me to reflect on my life, or rather the state of the oceans.

It’s looking pretty bleak out there because due to global warming there is a rise in seawater temperature, rising sea levels, ocean acidification (see previous post from me and Terry the Pteropod), and coral bleaching.  There is pollution from land runoff, overfishing (see post Great White Shark’s Adventure), oil spills, and growing garbage patches in all the world’s oceans.

The most well known is called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which is a fancy name for a whole lot of crap thrown into the ocean by humans. Most of this garbage is plastic, which will never biodegrade. In fact, all the plastic ever manufactured is still around today, unless it was incinerated. I do know an octopus who lives in a glass beer bottle, but plastic isn’t useful to any denizen of the ocean I know of.  In fact, most sea life ingest tiny bits of plastic, as well as plastic chemical by-products, which bioaccumulate on up the food chain until you (or the 10% of sharks, large predatory fish or marine mammals left in the oceans) eat us.  Yuck!  Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellies, and albatrosses and other sea birds become entangled in plastic when they try to dive for fish.

So my wish this Octopus Day is that you reduce the amount of plastic you buy, recycle what you do buy, and use a reusable water bottle.  Unless you’re one of the one billion persons on this planet who do not have access to clean drinking water (my guess you wouldn’t be reading this if you are), tap water or filtered tap water is fine!!  I wish I could filter the water I live in…

Ollie the Octopus and Ocean Acidification Definition

Octopus
Ollie the Octopus (photo by Cherilyn Chin)

Meet Ollie the Octopus and learn the ocean acidification definition

Hello, my name is Ollie, and I’m an Octopus.  I will give the ocean acidification definition shortly! Welcome to my blog entry, told from the point-of-view of an octopus.  I am ecstatic to have found myself a human translator (or is she an octopus translator??) named Cherilyn.  I chose a blog to get my thoughts and feelings across as I will only live to be 2-3 years old at most and it is very urgent that I share the many changes happening to my watery world now!

Ocean Acidification is due to Global Warming

My human translator recently told me about a documentary she watched, “A Sea Change,” which is about ocean acidification due to global warming.  All I could think was eek, my beak (mouth) and radula (teeth) will start to dissolve soon and they don’t make dentures for octopuses!  Also within a few octopus generations (and definitely within your human lifetime), my coral reef may be dead.  Yes, the corals that pre-date humans by thousands of years will be gone in a blink of geologic time.  Sure the earth and her oceans over millions of years can deal with the rise of temperatures in both the atmosphere and ocean, but ocean acidification may be the straw that broke the camel shrimp’s back. 

Ocean Acidification Definition

The ocean acidification definition is that all the little animals and plants that build up the massive coral reefs (which are visible from outer space!) will be gone if the saltwater they live in becomes more acidic and dissolves their calcium carbonate skeletons.  My favorite foods, crabs and shrimps, will be gone if they can no longer make their exoskeletons.  No longer will my worst nightmares consist of the “baby octopus bowls” served at Japanese restaurants.  No, it will be that I have no food to eat, and to boot, no place to live!

Stop destroying my ocean!

One in four ocean creatures lives on a coral reef and I believe there isn’t a more beautiful and productive place on earth.  In fact my human translator called coral reefs “heaven in the ocean” after a SCUBA dive in the South Pacific.  From what I’ve heard, due to industrialization, humans have caused massive destruction to the beautiful land all across the earth by exploiting her once plentiful resources.  I’m not looking forward to what humans can do to the oceans, nor can I ignore what they already have done. 

No part of the once thought of massive, untouchable and exotic oceans are left unscathed by the reaches of man.  There is no pristine anything anymore—from pollution caused by runoff from the land, to carbon dioxide and other chemicals spewed into the air that eventually make their way into the oceans (oceans cover more than 70% of the so called “earth”), to the overfishing of large predatory fish.  But increasingly (and supposedly) efficient methods of fishing are wiping out entire schools of both small and large fish in a blink of an eye and leaving nothing but millions of fish scales to sink to the bottom of the ocean forever.  Don’t get me started about the coral bleaching due to global warming, as seeing dead patches of coral really makes me want to really ink someone! 

In conclusion:

I’m glad I only live a few years at most.  If I successfully reproduce, I hope my offspring will have a healthy coral reef to live on, and food to eat.  I hope for your human offspring’s sake they don’t ask someday, “why are there no more coral reefs in the ocean? Or more importantly, “why didn’t you do anything to stop the destruction of the coral reefs?” 

You Can Help!!

Fortunately there is still time, and there is still hope.  Although only 1% of all the money donated to conservation causes is ocean related, you can make a difference one cent and one dollar at a time.  It costs nothing to sign on-line petitions, e-mail your local Senators or Representatives or to just to stay informed (follow my human interpreter on twitter @protectoceans or visit protecttheoceans.org.  Tell just one person what you’ve learned today and hopefully someday your grandchildren, after peeking underwater at a coral reef for the first time, or seeing a whale surface and spout in the ocean, will thank you for helping to protect the oceans and its inhabitants from destruction by mankind.

More from Ollie the Octopus:Ollie the Octopus on International Cephalopod Awareness Days and the State of the Oceans

Ollie the Octopus on Coral Reef Bleaching and the Great Barrier Reef

Ollie the Octopus and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch