The Octopus Experience
Amazingly there are over 300 different species of octopus. The octopi are categorized as cephalopods showing many similarities to squid. Like squid, octopi (an acceptable pluralization of the octopus like octopuses), have the ability to spray ink, have no bones as well as the ability to camouflage themselves when in protection mode. They can change the color of their skin as well as changing their opaqueness and reflectiveness. Octopi actually only have six arms; the other appendages are legs.
All 300 species of octopus are venomous but there’s only one that is known to have poison effective on humans, the Blue Ringed Octopus. Octopi survive in most regions within an ocean including coral reefs, seabeds and in the depths of the ocean. The suction cups, which are on the arms or appendages, are used for both respiration and locomotion. The siphon brings water in and then expels it, propelling the octopus forward. Octopuses also have an excellent sense of touch. An octopus’s suction cups are equipped with sensors so the octopus can taste what it touches. An octopus’s arms also do not become tangled or stuck to each other because the sensors recognize the skin and prevent self-attachment.
Generally, octopi age very quickly and are short-lived due to their ability to mature early in their lifespan. When octopi are mating the male uses one of his arms, a special one, to deliver sperm directly into the female. Females hide the eggs and care for them until they hatch. The eggs look similar to a tiny version of white grape bunches. The lifespan of a female is between 1 and 2 years. About forty days after mating, the female giant Pacific octopus attaches strings of small fertilized eggs (10,000 to 70,000 in total) to rocks in a crevice or under an overhang. Here she guards and cares for them for about 160 days until they hatch. In colder waters, such as those off of Alaska, it may take as much as 10 months for the eggs to completely develop. The female aerates the eggs and keeps them clean; if left untended, many eggs will not hatch. She does not eat during this time and dies soon afterwards. Males die a few weeks after mating.
The harvesting of octopi have increased greatly in the last 30 to 40 years, with last year 370,000 tons being taken from oceans worldwide. This has led to a new aquaculture society that is farm raising octopuses, just like they do for salmon, shrimp and tilapia. The “Vulgaris” species is the most commonly eaten octopi, but in aquaculture they are using another species, called the “Maya.” Morocco used to be the world’s largest producer until the oceans were overfished. Aquaculture farms generally control the temperature, feed and lighting where the animals are grown to maximize the speed of growth and reproduction. Aquaculture of the octopus started in the 1960s but only had a survival rate of 9%. In 2004 this went up to 31%, due to the change in species, which is still not a viable rate for big commercial development. Another advantage of the Maya breed is the quick pace they come to adult maturity. Some current experiments have seen upwards of a 50% survival rate.
The harvest season is from August to December. Generally, fishermen tether their boats to each other and use one boat with a motor to take them out to the beds and bring them back in. Fishermen fish with poles baited with softshell crabs. When the octopus sees the crab, it wraps its arms and legs around it and fishermen pull it into the boat.
Depending on the species an octopus length can measure as little as one inch and weigh as little as a third of an ounce. On the larger species they can weigh around 150 pounds and have an arm span of around a 14-foot span. The average adult weighs around 33 pounds. The largest ever recorded was it 600-pound octopus with a 30-foot arm span.