Hatfield Marine Science Center unveils new live OctoCam


NEWPORT – An iconic celebrity of the central Oregon coast is ready to writhe and wiggle his way onto a computer screen near you.

Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center this week unveiled its new OctoCam, streaming live video of the visitor center's resident giant Pacific octopus to the world. It can be seen at: http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/visitor/octocam

Employing two Webcams – one outside and slightly above the tank and one inside the tank – viewers are treated to a live 24-hour show featuring the resident cephalopod interacting with tank mates and curious on-lookers. Viewers also have the option of watching archival footage of the octopus investigating the camera when it was first installed; and more archival footage will be added periodically.

The giant Pacific octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini, occupies a central spot among the visitor center's many aquatic animal exhibits. The trademark critter has been a favorite of visitors almost since OSU opened the doors to the Hatfield center in 1965. Of course, it hasn't been the same octopus; typically an adult octopus stays in the tank for between one and two years.

Younger octopuses, often donated by  local crabbers, are cycled into the tank to replace the older animals, which are then released back into Yaquina Bay to find a mate and spawn.

Many visitors plan their HMSC visits to coincide with the animal's thrice-weekly live crab feedings so they can watch this marine predator stalking and pouncing on prey while learning a bit about octopus biology and behavior. Feeding dates and times vary from season to season, and the schedule is posted on the center's website (hmsc.oregonstate.edu/visitor).

Getting the octopus on the web took the combined efforts of nearly every program at the visitor center as well as OSU Media Services. Sea Grant’s aquatic animal curator, health and husbandry specialist Dennis Glaze, had to seriously consider the feasibility of putting a camera in the octopus tank.

“Octopuses are intelligent, inquisitive, and very strong,” said Glaze. “They have the ability to take apart even the smallest mechanical component – and often will do so just to entertain themselves. Other public aquariums have had great difficulties making a project like this successful.

“Our prime concern was the health of the animal,” Glaze added, “but, of course, the survival of the camera was considered too.”

Oregon Sea Grant's marine education team has already begun using the OctoCam to put on live, interactive programs for Internet-enabled K-12 classrooms far from the Oregon coast. Marine  educator Kathryn Hawes recently used the OctoCam to do a live feeding presentation to a second grade class in Monticello, Iowa.

“None of the 20 students present had ever been to the Pacific Ocean let alone seen a live giant Pacific octopus,” Hawes said. “They were all so full of questions. This tool opens up some remarkable teaching opportunities.”

The OctoCam has been undergoing testing for a few weeks with a limited audience of HMSC employees, volunteers and supporters.

“I can't stop watching,” one fascinated tester said. “This is just the coolest thing I've ever seen on the Internet.”