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Ollie the Octopus
In July, we caught a juvenile North Pacific Giant Octopus in one of our prawn traps. We took it back to the floating cabin for Alex to see. She named him "Ollie" and kept him as her "pet" for the afternoon. Ollie's story, with video, pictures and interesting facts about octopuses.
6-year-old Alex Meets an Octopus
One of the stories worth telling from Alex's summertime fun is the story about an octopus Alex named "Ollie".
The story begins as many of our more interesting stories do - at the floating cabin The Floating Cabin Picture of the floating cabin in the Barkley Sound. Located off the west coast of Vancouver Island and not far from the Broken Group Islands and the West Coast Trail. It's a wild, pristine wilderness area and wildlife abounds. Black bear, killer whales, sea lions, bald eagles, seals, sea otters, mink, cougar are among the inhabitants. There's oodles of sea food here too. Clams, oysters, prawn, crab, salmon, halibut, ling cod and snapper. It's an amazing area and we're lucky to be part-owners of this unique floating cabin. Click to learn more about the floating cabin (map, photos, etc). . The cabin is situated in the Barkley Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, very close to the Pacific Rim National Park. It's a wet and wild place, accessible only by boat and we love sharing it with family and friends. It was late July and Scott's folks were at the cabin. It was their second visit and they too, love the solitude, the wild nature and rugged west coast scenery.
We had taken the boat out to pull up our prawn traps, though Alex elected to remain behind at the cabin, on this particular trip. It's about a 10-minute boat-ride from the cabin to the traps and we usually check them several times a day, when we're prawning.
Pulling up prawn traps from the depths of the ocean sometimes yields sea creatures other than prawns. The most common of these creatures is also the least desirable - the dreaded slime eel About Slime Eels (Hagfish) A slime eel isn't an eel at all, rather a very primitive fish called a Hagfish. They've been around for 550 million years. Because of their unusual feeding habits and slime-producing capabilities, the hagfish is often referred to as the most "disgusting" of all sea creatures. Hagfish have a sluggish metabolism and can survive months between feedings. However, hagfish often enter and eat the bodies of dead, dying or injured sea creatures that are much larger than themselves. Lovely, eh? More of nuisance to us, however, is the slime one of these "eels" can generate if agitated inside of a prawn trap. This slime encases the eel, the trap and the prawn and can take an hour or more to remove. An adult slime eel can secrete enough slime to turn a 20 liter (5 gal) bucket of water into slime in a matter of minutes. Yuck! Click the red-underlined link to learn more about Hagfish (Wikipedia) . This time, however, as Scott manually hauled up two traps from a depth of 250 feet, we noticed a reddish octopus in one of the traps!
Since Alex wasn't with us, we thought it would be fun to show her the octopus, so we carefully lifted it out of the prawn trap, put it into a pail of seawater and took it for a boat ride, back to the cabin. We were curious to see how Alex would react to this soft, eight-armed Cepholapod.
What follows is the story about Alex's encounter with an octopus, along with some interesting facts, video and pictures of these amazing and intelligent sea creatures.
No Shrinking Violet
Dad and the grandparents weren't sure how Alex would react to the octopus. I think we thought she would be squeamish about touching it. To be honest, I think we took the octopus back to the cabin because we wanted to see Alex's reaction, more than we wanted to expand her horizons and understanding of the world. (Adults can be cruel that way, eh?)
If we thought Alex would scream at seeing the octopus or balk about touching it, then the joke was on us! Alex got right in there like a dirty shirt! She loved the octopus, which she promptly named "Ollie" and decided immediately that it was her new "pet".
When it comes to some things, Alex is no shrinking violet!
In the warm July sunshine, it didn't take long for the bucket of seawater to warm up and Scott ended up refilling it several times before he got the bright idea of filling the 100-liter, insulated fish cooler with seawater and giving "Ollie" a more space than afforded by the small bucket.
Alex decided that Ollie needed a habitat and so, for the next hour of so, she occupied herself making Ollie a "home" the cooler. Rocks, shells, a tin can, algae and other objects were added.
For his part, "Ollie" played along. He allowed himself to be handled by this 6-year-old girl and didn't "freak out" and race around, trying to get away every time a tiny hand entered the water. Maybe he was smart enough to realize that escape was futile? Maybe he was just as curious about Alex as Alex was about him?
When left alone, however, Ollie opted to hide amongst the rocks and once he "disappeared" into the tin can.
Ollie spent the better part of an afternoon with us and Alex grew quite attached to her eight-armed squishy "pet". When it came time to go check the prawn traps again, we talked about what we should do with Ollie.
We suggested that it might be a good idea to put "Ollie" back where he came from, but maybe first, we should call the Ucluelet Aquarium on the cell-phone. (When we visited this unique "catch-and-release" aquarium in June, they didn't have an octopus and we thought they might like to add "Ollie" to their collection for remainder of the season). As it turned out, the aquarium had recently acquired an octopus and didn't need another "Ollie", so our discussion returned to releasing "Ollie" back into the wild.
Alex wanted to keep Ollie as a pet.
"We could take him home and keep him in our aquarium," she blurted, adding hopefully, "I'll feed him every day!"
When we quizzed her about what kind of food she would feed him, she admitted she didn't know, but said, "I'll find out on the Internet!"
Aside from the "food" dilemma, we explained that keeping "Ollie" in our aquarium wasn't really an option, because the aquarium at home is filled with fresh water and "Ollie" needed salt water. (You have to admire how children think, however, eh?)
Reluctantly, Alex decided that releasing "Ollie" back into the wild was the best option (though she really did prefer to keep him as her pet). Once Alex admitted this, Mom and Dad decided they better act on it, before the wind in Alex's head changed direction. The three of us went to pull up the prawn traps and release "Ollie" back into his ocean home.
Ollie Heads Back to the Deep Blue
We captured a short video of Ollie's release back into the water. However, as you'll see, it appeared that Ollie had become attached to Alex and didn't want to go back to the sea. (I had figured Ollie would, quite literally, jump at the chance to re-enter the ocean. Contrary to this, when Alex held Ollie over the side of the boat, he didn't let go of Alex's arm and instead, began to crawl up!)
Mom and Dad had to pry Ollie's arms off of Alex's, before he dropped into the ocean. With a plop, a blast of water and a squirt of "ink" ... "Ollie" returned to the deep blue sea. Hopefully, he was none the worse for wear after spending an afternoon on the dock of the floating cabin as Alex's "pet"!
Ollie Need to Know About Octopuses
After pulling Ollie out of the ocean and letting Alex play with him for an afternoon was fun for all of us and it whetted our appetite to learn more about these interesting sea creatures.
Ollie was a gelatinous creature and felt odd in our hands because he is an invertebrate (i.e., doesn't have a backbone). Octopuses don't have any bones, as a matter of fact and because of this, can squeeze themselves into some very tiny places (like crevasses in rocks and tin cans, as we found out)!
Though the life span of octopuses varies, none live very long by human standards - 6 months to a few years. They follow the general rule that the larger the species, the longer they live.
Ollie and his ilk live on the bottom of the ocean for most of their lives, eking out an existence in holes and crevasses of rock. (When they hatch from eggs, they rise to the surface and live on the surface with the plankton for a month or so, before swimming back down to the ocean floor).
Octopuses are largely predators and hunt at night. They love to eat crab, mollusks and crayfish. They are stealthy hunters, changing their body color to match their surroundings and then waiting for prey to pass by. When a meal is within reach, they'll grab it with its long arms and secrete a poison into them that stuns their prey. Octopus venom is poisonous and in some cases can be fatal for humans. (Good thing Ollie wasn't a blue-ringed octopus!)
Octopuses are very smart. Studies have shown that they can distinguish between shapes and patterns. They also have observational learning abilities. They have a highly developed sense of sight, which helps them to hunt in low light levels. They also have a great sense of touch (they have sensory receptors at the bottom of their suckers, allowing them to taste whatever they touch. Sadly, Ollie never heard Alex say, "Bye Ollie!" because octopuses are deaf.
We didn't know this, but Ollie has a lot of heart ... three to be exact. Octopuses have three hearts! Two pump blood through the gills to be oxygenated and the third is dedicated to pumping blood through the body. In addition, octopus blood - unlike humans - is blue, not red. This is because the octopus doesn't use iron-rich hemoglobin for transporting oxygen, but rather, copper-rich hemocyanin (Hemocyanin is more efficient than hemoglobin in the cold, low oxygen pressure environment in which octopuses and other sea creatures live).
Octopuses are preyed upon by sharks, dolphins, moray and conger eels. They have several ways of defending themselves. Their first line of defense is to hide, either in crevasses of rocks or by camouflaging their body by changing color. Once they've been seen by a predator, their secondary defenses will kick in: fast escape, inking and/or autotomising (self-amputation of a limb).
Most octopuses can emit a thick cloud of blacking "ink", which helps aid in its escape. The main coloring agent of this ink is melanin, the same chemical that gives humans their hair and skin color.
When directly under attack, some octopuses can perform arm autotomy, severing their arm. The movement of the severed arm serves as a distraction (and a snack) for would-be predators. Over time, the (now still-living) octopus, will regenerate that arm.
Ollie (thought to be a juvenile North Pacific Giant Octopus) turned out to be a very interesting and unique animal. Alex enjoyed meeting him, treating him as her "pet" and building a "habitat" for him in our big cooler! "Bye Ollie!" Thanks for making our day!