Staff at the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre were surprised when their new resident octopus laid eggs within a few weeks of arrival.
‘Ash’ the octopus was donated to the centre by a local diver who found her off the Merimbula Wharf.
Ash had been at the centre for just five weeks when staff discovered she had laid eggs under a rock in the aquarium. Due to the small size of the octopus they never imagined that she was mature enough for breeding.
Centre manager Kerryn Wood said Ash was the smallest octopus to have laid eggs at the centre and this prompted her to contact Red Map (Range Extension Database and Mapping Project) at the University of Tasmania. Through data collection and citizen science surveys UTAS is researching the impact warming oceans are having on marine species. Ash the octopus is now monitored daily for research by UTAS.
The laying of the eggs marks the beginning of the end for the octopus. Ash has remained on constant vigilance next to her eggs, she will not leave and nor will she eat again.
Once the eggs are hatched, nature will take its course and the octopus will die from starvation and exhaustion.
In a hopeful and heartbreaking moment, the volunteers at the discovery centre will attempt to raise the baby octopus (paralarvae) in the tank at the centre. Unfortunately the centre lacks infrastructure and past attempts to raise octopus have failed.
“In the past the larvae have gone to research after we had tried our very hardest to keep them alive. The main problem is keeping them fed.”
Ms Wood believes the the ideal situation would be to have a “flow through system”. Flow is critical to successfully keeping many saltwater species. Ocean water would be pumped through the tanks mimicking the tides and currents, bringing with it food as well as cleaning off waste.
“With flow through ocean water is pumped bringing with it plankton which is essential for paralarvae’s survival.”
“The ‘babies’ are smaller than a grain of rice, they need a constant food source, but will we definitely try, we are currently looking into creating a brine shrimp hatchery,” Ms Wood said.
It is understood in the wild the larvae would have had a far greater chance of survival. Ms Wood said the SCMDC is in a catch-22 situation.
“Although some larvae would naturally die or be eaten by predators, others would grow to become octopus,” Ms Wood said.
Due to environmental restrictions involving disease prevention, neither the larvae nor the octopus can be returned to the ocean.
“You can’t help but get attached, we are the adopted parents. We want nothing more than to see a tank of thriving baby octopus.”