Human Interest

Untangling the mysteries of the octopus

Vigo, Spain, Aug 10 (EFE).- A team of scientists in Spain is aiming to explain the mysteries shrouding the largely unknown life cycle of octopuses, and their research could pave the way for sustainable farming of the cephalopods that are a common feature on dinner tables across the country.

Biologists working with the Institute of Marine Research (CSIC) recently released 22 octopuses into the waters of the Cíes Islands in the northwestern city of Vigo, Galicia, a diverse and unique habitat that was declared a natural park in 1980.


“We aim to observe what the migrations of these animals are, what they do and what their interactions are within their own ecosystem in the Cíes Islands,” Angel Gonzalez, Scientific Researcher at CSIC, tells Efe.

“We chose the Cíes because it is a natural laboratory, and is really gorgeous from the perspective of the culture of these animals, not only the common octopus, but also cuttlefish and squid, and it is a pristine ecosystem (…) so it’s a fantastic space to know what is going on with the ecology of these animals,” Gonzalez says.

In the past, scientists from CSIC have tried to tap into this relatively unknown world through submarine video recordings, but this new approach will allow them to track the creatures over a longer period and they hope will garner more in depth knowledge of their habits.

The team used acoustic markers that emit a signal every minute and can be picked up by a grid of 50 receptors over a much longer period of time which are expected to provide much more information than a two or three-hour dive would.

By late summer, biologists are hoping to collect the first batch of data that will provide insights into sustainable breeding of the octopuses based on its ecology in the wild.

“This information is really precious and it is the first time that we are performing this experiment anywhere in the world,” the expert adds.


As demand for octopus meat grows, a race to clinch the formula to farming the cephalopods ecologically is underway.

“Total reported global production of octopuses over the past three decades indicates a relatively steady increase in catch, almost doubling from 179,042 MT in 1980 to 355,239 MT in 2014,” a paper published by Seafood Source in 2020 found.

While many other marine creatures are farmed in industrial facilities, octopuses have remained elusive for years and mystery shrouds much of their biological life cycle, making rearing them in captivity a huge challenge.

The main issues when breeding the cephalopods have been keeping tiny hatchlings alive, identifying the adequate feed for octopuses in their paralarval state and ascertaining optimal tank conditions.

“Aquaculture allows us to know some aspects of their life cycle that we are not able to understand in the wild (…) such as where the juveniles are and how they behave, which is impossible to know in the ocean. But those animals reared in our tanks, in our facilities, allow us to understand the species better, and will allow us to improve conservation strategies and management of the species,” marine biologist Alvaro Roura tells Efe.

Roura has witnessed all sorts of incredible behaviors and traits while breeding octopus in captivity, and says that if he had to choose one word to describe them, it would be cheeky.

“They crawl out of the tank and you can find them attached to the wall, or even the windows of the lab,” Roura recalls.

“Another funny thing is that when they do not recognise the person that is in front of them or they don’t like their hairstyle, they squirt water at them like a sniper. They are very, very precise. They are very interesting animals to have in captivity,” the biologist says with a smile.EFE


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