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Thousands of Giant Pacific Octopus Eggs Hatching at the Alaska Sealife Center

LuLu, a giant pacific octopus housed at the Alaska SeaLife Center.

LuLu, a giant pacific octopus housed at the Alaska SeaLife Center.

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Alaska SeaLife Center

Seward, AK – April 15, 2013 – A wondrous spectacle of nature began unfolding on March 6 in the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Denizens of the Deep exhibit. This exhibit is home to LuLu, a giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), who has been tenderly guarding and protecting her brood of eggs, which she began laying in March 2012. Now, over a year later, tiny hatchlings known as paralarvae have begun to emerge; and the baby octopuses are captivating the interest of visitors and staff.

LuLu the octopus laid eggs throughout the spring of 2012 after an encounter the previous fall with Felix, a male giant Pacific octopus. A female giant Pacific octopus will lay eggs only once in her life and can lay over 30,000 eggs; which she will brood and guard until they hatch. A male giant Pacific octopus may mate with several females but will expire following this reproductive period.

LuLu has proven to be a very attentive and active mother, and her lifespan will end as the last of the eggs mature. "LuLu is not feeding at this time but continues to groom and fan the eggs as attentive octopus mothers do in this final reproductive phase of their lives," said Richard Hocking, the Center’s aquarium curator.

While other octopus species are often raised from eggs in aquariums across the globe, it’s not so with the giant Pacific octopus. There is only one documented case of a giant Pacific octopus being successfully reared from egg to maturity in an aquarium setting; this happened in the mid-1980s. Giant Pacific octopuses are difficult to rear due to the delicate nature of the paralarvae after they emerge from their eggs and the nutritional demands that need to be met for proper growth. These challenges mean aquarists at the Center have a steep road ahead in trying to raise the hatchlings to adulthood, but they are taking several steps to increase their chances of survival. Aquarium staff are harvesting both wild and cultured zooplankton to feed the paralarval octopuses and have also constructed special rearing tanks.

In the wild, hatching octopuses swim toward the surface and can spend several weeks or even months drifting in the plankton rich water until they reach a size where they can hunt effectively at deeper depths. Once they settle to the bottom, juveniles will take refuge in naturally occurring crevices and under rocks, where they have protection from predators and can continue to feed and mature. Octopuses consume mostly crustaceans and mollusks along with other bivalves, snails, fish and smaller octopuses.

Visitors to the Center can see LuLu and her newly-hatched offspring swimming in the Denizens of the Deep tank, and some of the hatchlings can also be viewed in a special display near the Discovery Touch Pool. Besides LuLu and her offspring, six other octopuses currently call the Alaska SeaLife Center home. Special encounters are scheduled daily for visitors to the Center who would like to learn more about these fascinating cephalopods. Octopus Encounters can be arranged by calling the Reservation Hotline at the Center: 888-378-2525.

The Alaska SeaLife Center is a private non-profit research institution and visitor attraction which generates and shares scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems. The Alaska SeaLife Center is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.alaskasealife.org.

PHOTOS: Courtesy of the Alaska SeaLife Center

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