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

  • NW2000Bball
    2/23/2015 - 08:47 a.m.

    I feel like this article tells and shows us a little bit more about the nature of octopuses. Most people know that the octopus has 8 tenticles or arms. But this article shows more which actually explains to us how this animal lives.

  • namelt-Che
    2/23/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    To me, it would be kind of weird to count octopuses because who would want to count octopuses?. I would count them unless some of them has got lost.

  • jm1999gizmo
    2/24/2015 - 08:51 a.m.

    they probably walnt let you around that area anymore and make shore you dont go nere the wild life in that area to effect the habatate for them.

  • FaithHatheway4
    2/24/2015 - 11:17 a.m.

    they mate soon after they die so do they teach their offspring how to survive. why does population keep going up day maybe one we will know.

  • JoshuaM-Phe
    2/25/2015 - 08:40 a.m.

    In the passage it says "last year on of the drivers killed a G.P.O." I wonder how he killed the octopus? Was it intentional? Broc what do you think?

  • valorgosch
    2/26/2015 - 12:45 a.m.

    the giant Pacific octopus has recently gone under a population census study to help determine the population of the octopi. I believe that this is rather futile since in the article it is almost impossible to determine the population of the octopus by simply counting them since they eventually die off.

  • brandonjaclin
    2/28/2015 - 09:25 a.m.

    You probably cant bring any sort of weapon or object to kill it with, you probably have to be in a shark cage so the octopuses cant hurt or kill you

  • Abigailgi-Lam
    3/02/2015 - 02:11 p.m.

    Even though they aren't endangered they could be. They should know how many are in the area just in case there is a huge loss somewhere near their habitat so they could easily figure out where it is coming from, and why it is doing so. We don't need any more animals extinct.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    3/15/2015 - 01:47 p.m.

    Even though they aren't extinct yet they could be in the near future. We need to count how many there are so we know when the population increases and decreases. If we find out when this happens we could easily determine how to sustain their numbers.

  • Haley Patterson
    3/30/2015 - 01:48 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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