A deep-sea octopus, under scientists’ observation, was sitting in one place for almost five years.
The scientists observed the octopus until they finally discovered what it was guarding. And the answer was not what they expected.
An Alien-Like Species
Octopuses are intelligent animals, reflected in their ability to adapt flexibly to their environment in an eerily similar way to humans.
But their short lifespans and alien-like appearance make them a wonder that is still largely unknown.
A Dedication To Uncovering The Secrets Of The Deep Sea
A team of researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing, California, has been researching deep-sea creatures for 25 years.
In 2007, Bruce Robison and his team were particularly interested in an area called “Midwater 1.” And they would soon discover what secret the canyon holds.
It Was Supposed To Be A Routine Survey
So in May 2007, Robison’s team conducted a routine survey to collect data for new research.
But the team didn’t have long to wait before they saw something that caught their interest.
Scientists Didn’t Know What Was In Store For Them
Considering the distance the MBARI remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) had to travel to reach the depths of Midwater 1, they expected the search to take a while.
But the team’s patience would soon pay off.
It Was Stuck On A Ledge
Upon reaching 4,600 feet, Robison and his team were shocked at what they saw.
Approaching a rocky ledge above the ocean floor, the scientists saw an octopus sitting very still, and at first, it wasn’t clear what it was doing.
The Octopus Did Not Move Once Inch
While it would appear that the octopus wasn’t doing anything noteworthy at first, there was still a fascination with recording the animal’s behaviors.
After all, there was still so little known about octopuses in deep waters.
A Species Older Than Dinosaurs
As a species, octopuses are very old, and it’s speculated that the first octopuses appeared roughly 296 million years ago.
Their long existence has made them masters of camouflage and evasion, able to change their skin to match their environment.
Octopuses Have Advanced Defensive Abilities
Octopuses also have the defensive mechanism of spewing ink and poison on enemies.
They are also smart enough to use tools to solve everyday problems in the deep sea, and some species even hide in coconut shells and carry coconuts with them if they need to hide.
The Value Of Time Is Important In An Octopuses’ Life
With a short lifespan of anywhere from 3-5 years, it seems logical that octopuses would need such advanced defensive capabilities.
Octopuses are also semelparous, meaning they are a species that only breeds once in their lifetime, shortly dying after doing so.
She Did Not React To The Researchers
So when the ROVs could fully record the area, they saw a female octopus sitting on a ledge above the ocean floor. They knew she was female because she lacked a hectocotylus, an arm used by males to impregnate females.
Since the octopus was not moving to camouflage or enter a defensive state, it raised the researcher’s curiosity.
She Was Displaying Symptoms Of Illness
At first, the researchers were concerned that perhaps she was injured or sick. The ROV could do nothing but record the octopus in her resting state.
And according to previous dives, the octopus had recently moved to the ledge. They had no record of it being there before.
Was She Hiding Something?
The position of the octopus made it look like it was hiding something.
But since the octopus was doing such a fine job of hiding whatever it was hiding, the researchers found it curious but left the octopus alone.
Maybe It Was Just A Coincidence
As the research team’s job was to monitor the area and report any findings, they returned and were surprised to see that the octopus was still there.
It may have been a coincidence, so the researchers left it alone. Or was it?
It Was Not A Coincidence
When the researchers returned with their ROV once again, the octopus was still there.
At this point, it was no coincidence, and they realized they had something interesting on their hands.
What Was So Special About Midwater 1?
Perhaps there was something special about Midwater 1. Maybe something in the water attracted the octopus, or it was a prime feeding ground.
The researchers then dedicated themselves to finding out what the answer was.
Octopuses Know How To Eat
Octopuses love eating small fish, crabs, lobsters, mussels, clams, and snails. Sometimes they even eat other octopuses.
They use their tentacles the same way humans use their hands to eat.
Octopuses Usually Aren’t Found On Ledges
Depending on the species, octopuses are typically found living on the ocean floor. Others live in coastal waters, rising to the surface for food.
They also love hiding in crevices, underwater caves, and anywhere dark. But typically, not ledges.
She Had Scars All Across Her Body
Needing to find out what this octopus was doing, MBARI sent divers to inspect the animal.
They found several scars throughout its body of varying sizes, meaning she had found herself in some danger.
She Was Gravely Injured
She had been injured. Was that the reason she hadn’t moved from the ledge?
Perhaps she was recuperating from her injuries and found the ledge to be the safest place in all the ocean.
Something Had Grown Beneath Her
As time went on, the researchers began noticing something odd beneath her.
While she never moved from her spot, as researchers could still identify her by her scars, it appeared that the ground had changed beneath her.
A Startling Truth
Determined to find the reason for the octopus’s stubborn refusal to move from her spot and what was beneath her, the divers finally discovered the reason.
Except it wasn’t one reason. It was over 150.
The Secret She Was Hiding: A Group Of Eggs
This octopus wasn’t recuperating after an undersea battle or injured from illness.
She was guarding a group of eggs that had grown over her observation, becoming more visible as time passed.
She Was Protecting Her Babies
The transparent eggs allowed the researchers to see tiny baby octopuses growing inside.
Her tentacles were curled around the eggs, keeping them safe from predators. She was so determined to protect the eggs that she hadn’t moved for years.
An Octopus With A Lot Of Heart
Perhaps there is a reason for her fierce determination to protect her babies.
Octopuses have three hearts, mainly because octopuses live in cold, low-oxygen environments. Each heart plays a different role in ensuring the animal has enough oxygenated blood.
She Used All Her Brain-Power To Protect Her Babies
Octopuses also have nine brains aside from a central brain in the head. Each tentacle has a mini-brain, allowing it to act independently of the body.
But this octopus was solely focused on protecting her babies.
The Dedication Of Octopus Mothers
MBARI researchers made 18 trips to observe the octopus over the course of four and a half years.
Throughout that time, octopuses observed another curious behavior that proves the dedication of female octopuses.
She Still Appeared Ill
While the octopus was sitting on the ledge, she appeared to grow skinnier. Her skin also appeared loose and pale.
When crabs and shrimp would swim by, she completely ignored them.
A Dedicated Mother
The mother octopus starved for four and a half years to preserve her eggs.
The researchers couldn’t believe it, and it was one of the longest brooding periods recorded for any animal.
One Of The Longest Brooding Periods
This octopus was a Graneledone boreopacifica known for living in deep, cold water, requiring longer brooding periods than average.
Mother octopuses must seal the eggs in fresh oxygenated water with her body. When born, they are fully able to hunt and are much larger than any other hatchling species of octopus or squid.
No One Saw Her Again
The last time researchers spotted the octopus was in 2011 when the researchers observed empty egg capsules with the mother gone.
They counted 160 empty capsules. While the mother’s whereabouts are unknown, she likely passed away shortly after witnessing the birth of her many children.