capturing an octopus -- 4/10/19

Today's selection -- from The Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery. Sy Montgomery describes the process of getting a new seven-pound, ten-month-old octopus to her aquarium, one that was notably missing one arm:

" 'Catching an octopus is fairly involved,' [the shipper] Ken [Wong] told me, when I called him. 'They're elusive. And you've got to find one appropriate for display. Thirty- and forty-pound octopuses, you don't want. You should leave them there to breed. Then there are some that are too small, and aren't appropriate.' Another problem is that, this time of year, most of the octopuses are missing from one to four arms. Lingcod, voracious predators that grow to 80 pounds, with eighteen sharp teeth, are spawning, and will bite and bully octopuses to evict them from their dens and claim the holes as their own. This is likely how our octopus lost her arm.

"On his first few dives, Ken had not found a suitable octo­pus. Sometimes he saw no octopus at all. 'Sometimes you just get skunked,' he said. But Ken was determined. It took him six dives, but finally he found the octopus that would be destined for Boston.

"He spotted her at a depth of about 75 feet, hiding in a rock for­mation, with just her suckers sticking out. Ken had touched her gently and she had jetted from her crevice-directly into his waiting monofilament net.

" 'The net is so soft you wouldn't feel its abrasion on your face,' Ken told me. 'You have to treat these animals with kid gloves. You can't yank them to the surface. You don't want to shock them.' The water temperature at that depth may be more than 15 degrees F colder than the water at the surface, so he had transferred her from the net to a closed container in about 50 gallons of water, and hauled everything slowly to the surface. She never struggled or inked.

"She had lived in a 5 x 5 x 4-foot, 400-gallon tank, equipped with rocks and pipe elbows to hide in, for the past six weeks. Within the first three weeks, she learned to come to him when he slapped the water, bearing food. She especially enjoyed salmon heads and crab. She was fed on a random schedule, rather like in the wild. One day she might eat a single prawn, and two days later, she might feast on two large crabs. 'She put on weight at a good clip,' he told me. When he caught her, he estimated she weighed about seven pounds. Now he thought she weighed about nine.

Feeding the Giant Pacific Octopus

"How, then, did he entice the octopus into the plastic bag for shipping? 'You have to convince the animal to get in the bag,' he said. 'You can't force someone that smart, with eight arms. It's not quick and easy.' He drained some of the water out of the tank to ease his task, but still, it took about an hour to convince her to enter the bag. ...

"In some cases, Ken has to hold out for better weather to ship an animal. Airports close for snow or heavy fog, and he won't send an octopus out if it looks like it might be kept waiting because of weather delays. ...

"How does he feel about capturing animals in the wild and sending them to a life in captivity? He has no regrets. 'They're ambassadors from the wild,' he said. 'Unless people know about and see these animals, there will be no stewardship for octopuses in the wild. So knowing they are going to accredited institutions, where they are going to be loved, where people will see the animal in its glory -- that's good, and it makes me happy. She'll live a long, good life  -- longer than in the wild.'

"I share all Ken told me with [my colleagues] as we lean over the barrel, looking at the new octopus. She is a deep, chocolate brown at first, then changes to red veined with pink and brown, and finally fades to a mottled fawn color, her raised papillae flecked with white, almost like snow."



Sy Montgomery


The Soul of an Octopus


Atria Paperback


Copyright 2015 by Sy Montgomery


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