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BMNSM reports on new giant Pacific octopus

By SHELL MUSEUM - | Jan 8, 2021


The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum recently received a new giant Pacific octopus.

Officials reported that the museum received her in early December and it kept the exhibit closed for a few days to get her acclimated to the new surroundings. She has been a bit shy and initially may be a little difficult to find. The octopus came in at just 436 grams — just under one pound. Senior Aquarist Carly Hulse confirmed that she is healthy and her coloration and texture are perfect.

The following are some of the questions that museum staff often hear:

– How do you know she is a she?

The giant Pacific octopus is sexually dimorphic, meaning there is a distinctive difference between the males and the females. The males third arm on the left, called a hectocotylus, is completely devoid of suckers at the tip and is used to insert spermatophores into the opening of the female oviduct.

– How old is the new giant Pacific octopus?

She is difficult to age, since she was wild-sourced. We do not really know how old she may be at this time.

– What is the life expectancy for a giant Pacific octopus?

We know that their average life expectancy is from three to five years; there is, however, ongoing debate as to whether males or females tend to live longer within that range.

– What is the maximum size of a giant Pacific octopus?

They can grow to be heavier than 50 pounds and our aquarium is set up to accommodate one of that size. Given that the new octopus is now slightly heavier than three pounds, she has plenty of room to grow. As long as she gains around 5 percent of her body weight per week, she will double in size every 70 days.

Staff is enjoying watching her become more comfortable in her new home. Hulse is working daily on her tactile enrichment. This type of engagement allows the octopus to become comfortable with her through taste and feel.

“Her arms are covered with sensorial suckers, which in turn are loaded with taste buds, so everyone and everything feels and tastes different to her. Tactile enrichment is super important because as she gets older and stronger, we want her to feel comfortable with us so visits with our veterinarian or any other procedures are less stressful for both her and the staff,” Hulse said. “With tactile enrichment, I simply allow her to explore and taste my hand, and reinforce this with some tasty salmon. Once, when she realized I was out of salmon, she threw her poop at me, and retreated into her den — so there’s that. Just like a little kid, she was testing out her boundaries with me.”

Officials reported that through the generosity of an anonymous donor, it will purchase a high-end underwater camera — its new Octocam — and will soon have live streaming via its Website.

In addition, many have asked about the giant Pacific octopus the museum had on display previously. He was a star feature of the new exhibits since opening, officials reported. Unfortunately, in November, he started to show the last stages of natural aging progression. The exhibit was closed to give him privacy and peace, and museum officials worked with its veterinarian team to ensure appropriate care.

For more information, visit www.shellmuseum.org or call 239-395-2233.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is at 3075 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel.