OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

New HMSC octopus readies for public debut

11/02/2010

NEWPORT, Ore. – A new featured octopus will make its public debut on Saturday, Nov. 13, in the central aquarium at the Visitor Center in Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center, and the public is invited to meet the animal and learn its new name.

Meanwhile, Web visitors may be able to get a sneak preview of the new star.

The event, called “Octopus Day,” will include activities for children, a display of a dissected octopus with its internal anatomy labeled, and the official unveiling – and first public feeding – of the new octopus at 1 p.m.

From now through Nov. 12, visitors are invited to submit suggested names for the new animal when they stop by OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, located on Yaquina Bay in Newport's South Beach area. The person who submits the winning name will receive a prize. Only in-person submissions are being accepted.

This is the latest in a long series of giant Pacific octopuses to greet visitors at one of the center's most popular and endearing exhibits. The new animal is the successor to Deriq, the octopus who became an  Internet hit earlier this year when the visitor center installed a live, streaming Web video feed dubbed the OctoCam (http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/visitor/octocam).

The tank has remained empty, and the OctoCam off the air, since Deriq died in June. Tim Miller-Morgan, Oregon Sea Grant's fish veterinarian, determined that the animal died of a microscopic parasite infection that subsequently claimed the life of the “backup” octopus housed in the center's animal husbandry wing. The source of the infection was discovered to be the red rock crabs that have long been the mainstay of the animals' diet.

While the center normally has ready access to octopuses from local crab fishermen (the animals often climb into crab traps to feast on the contents), the animals' demise coincided with the closing of crab season, so it took several months to acquire a replacement.

The new octopus has been in quarantine to ensure its health and get it used to interacting with people. It was recently moved into the visitor center tank, which will remain shrouded from public view so the animal can acclimate until the Nov. 13 event.

The OctoCam, however, is back on line, Webcasting live, infrared video of the darkened tank that offers occasional glimpses of the animal.

Bill Hanshumaker, Sea Grant's public marine education specialist at the visitor center, said aquarists have changed the octopus feeding regimen to prevent future infections. Instead of live crabs, the new animals are being fed fish. Hanshumaker plans to conduct a study to learn more about the crab-parasite connection in hope of returning to live feeding at some point.

“Our visitors really enjoy seeing the octopus hunting live prey,” Hanshumaker said, “and because we release the animals back into the wild after six months to a year, we don't want them to forget how to hunt.”

Hanshumaker is also working on plans to use the OctoCam as a science teaching tool for classrooms far from the Pacific Coast. The system actually uses two cameras – one inside the tank, and one outside, which lets Web visitors see and hear the thrice-weekly feeding and education programs put on by visitor center staff.

“That gives us a great opportunity to engage with classrooms,” he said. “Students and teachers from just about anywhere in the world can watch the animals being fed, listen to the presentation and then submit their own questions and get them answered live, on the spot, by our aquarists.” Such a program was tested this summer, and Hanshumaker is now working with teachers to develop curriculum materials so he can offer it to more schools.

The visitor center, managed by Oregon Sea Grant, is the public face of OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center, a 49-acre marine research, outreach and education complex. Many public wing exhibits are based on research conducted at the HMSC, and the center is home to Sea Grant's marine education program, which provides coastal and ocean science classes, camps and learning opportunities for K-12 students, homeschoolers, scout groups and teachers.

The visitor center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays until Memorial Day weekend, but closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is by donation.