How do you count octopuses? Very carefully
How do you count octopuses? Very carefully At left. volunteer diver Kevin Tower readies to enter the waters of the Puget Sound near Seattle (AP photo / Thinkstock)
How do you count octopuses? Very carefully
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To check on the health of the giant Pacific octopus population in Washington's Puget Sound, an unusual census takes place every year. Volunteer divers, enlisted by the Seattle Aquarium, take to inland waters to look for their eight-tentacle neighbors.

Weighing as much as 150 pounds with tentacles that can span up to 20 feet, the giant Pacific octopus lives up to its name. It's the biggest octopus in the world, and it calls the waters off Seattle home, part of its vast range over the Pacific Ocean.

"The Puget Sound offers good habitat, water temperature and an abundant food source for them," said Kathryn Kegel, a Seattle Aquarium biologist.

Known as one of the smartest creatures in the sea, the giant Pacific octopus leads a relatively short life, between three and five years. They are terminal maters, meaning once they mate, they die soon after.

"They are big hunters of crab, clams, scallops, things like that," Kegel said.

Because the giant Pacific octopus is not on federal endangered- or threatened-species lists, there are no current studies on the Puget Sound population. In fact, it's unknown how many live in the area, Kegel said.

That's where the Seattle Aquarium and its troops of volunteer divers step in.

From the waters off Seattle to the maritime border with Canada, 27 divers looked for the giant Pacific octopus, or G.P.O. as it's called, at 11 sites around Puget Sound last month. The aquarium asked the divers to count how many octopuses they saw, note the depth of their finding and the type of hiding spot.

This year, the census counted 28 octopuses, while divers found 17 last year.

"We've been watching the numbers go up, then kind of go down, then kind of go back up," Kegel said. "That could be having to do with population and mating. As they all peak and mate, they slowly die off, then they start to grow back up again."

The volunteer nature of the census means the count is not rigidly scientific, she said.

Two years ago, after a diver killed an octopus, state wildlife officials changed the rules to carve out protected habitat for octopuses. They used the data from the census as well as information from the dive community.

Puget Sound hosts a healthy scuba diving community, and the giant Pacific octopus is one of the main attractions, even though the water is cold and dark.

Octopuses can be challenging to spot. They are nocturnal and hide in their dens during the day. The divers use flashlights and dive in areas historically known for being octopus homes.

"They were hiding in their holes sleeping," volunteer diver Kathryn Arant said. "They had been eating because there were shells all around them."

Critical thinking challenge: What sort of restrictions would you expect to apply within protected habitats for octopuses?

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Assigned 22 times

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    2/19/2015 - 12:59 p.m.

    I have always been intrigued by the octopus. They are, indeed, one of the most intelligent creatures of the sea. So, its good to see humans making efforts to preserve them as best we can

  • nicholas.jones07
    2/19/2015 - 12:59 p.m.

    I think that the Pacific Giant Octopus is a very interesting species. It has 20 foot long tentacles and it has giant in it's name. I think that it is very interesting. The biggest record octopus is around 100 feet (not the pacific giant, but another species.

  • Ashleypatt
    2/19/2015 - 02:11 p.m.

    This was a very interesting article to read about. It would be tricky to count all of them because with all the legs they have. Like it said in this article that they are very challenging to spot. Its hard for scientist to do that because when they hide its really hard to spot them out. Then when they are all out swimming its also hard to spot them out because with all the legs they have swimming around so you dont know if its all one octopuse or many of them just swimming around.

  • TreyvaunT
    2/19/2015 - 02:12 p.m.

    It said people volunteer to do this job! Nope. I don't like the ocean that much in the first place, and to go down deep into it to count how many of one of the most dangerous creatures in the ocean. I think i will pass on that.

  • jarreds-Koc
    2/19/2015 - 05:21 p.m.

    I'd imagine that no food would be allowed because if you were to feed the octopi they could get sick and then they would lose money. No hunting would definitely be a big thing for them so that they everyone can enjoy the exhibits

  • 9caitlync
    2/19/2015 - 05:33 p.m.

    I think this is really cool, and interesting. I don't know much about octopuses, and never realized how smart they actually are. I think it is also cool how they are starting these studies to find out more about these creatures. Im just curious on how the one scuba diver killed a octopus.

  • CarterWBlue
    2/19/2015 - 05:38 p.m.

    I loved this so much octopus are my favorite animal and was excited when i saw this i am glad that more people are protecting the octopus population.

  • ianw-DiB
    2/20/2015 - 08:50 a.m.

    For a protected habitat i would expect boat patrols and radars to watch for poachers, and maybe an outpost built, and some habitats for the animals to live in.

  • MadisonSch
    2/20/2015 - 02:03 p.m.

    Why would people bother to count OCTOPI. People do not go into the ocean and think, "hmm, I really want to count some octopi." I certainly dont.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    2/21/2015 - 01:47 p.m.

    Octopuses are one of the most interesting creatures, in my opinion. It must be hard to try and spot them since they are nocturnal and find little caves to hide in during the day. I wouldn't want to go searching for them because I would feel as though one would shoot out of its cave and attack me. Coming face to face with one isn't something I would enjoy.

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