It was mid-October. I was assisting with animal husbandry tasks alongside the three marine education fellows in my cohort when all of a sudden Devin, one of the UGA Aquarium curators, rushed over to share some exciting news.
We all dropped what we were doing and followed Devin over to the octopus tank. In the tank, almost imperceptible, were thousands upon thousands of tiny, white hatchlings squirting through the water. Octavius the octopus had given birth!
Earlier this year, the aquarium acquired a Common Octopus from the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston. The octopus, who by popular vote on social media was named Octavius, has been a popular sight for aquarium visitors and a joy to take care of.
Over the past couple of weeks, Octavius had taken to hiding in its fabricated cave, emerging only to grab a crab or two at feeding time. This sudden change in behavior worried aquarium staff so they started monitoring the octopus very closely. Turns out, she was brooding over her eggs.
After getting over the shock of seeing all the babies in the tank, we immediately got to work. Devin and the other aquarium curator, Lisa Olenderski, started setting up spare tanks to hold the practically microscopic octopus hatchlings, while I headed to the dock with Anna Baynes, one of the other fellows, to release a few thousand baby octopuses into the Skidaway River.
Throughout the next two weeks, we continued to monitor Octavius’ welfare and collect new hatchlings as they appeared. A story about the incident was published in the Savannah Morning News, which resulted in Fox News picking up the story and publishing an article. Octavius had become an overnight celebrity!
Unfortunately, due to the extensive amount of energy needed to produce tens of thousands of hatchlings, Octavius is not expected to survive. However, she has provided an educational opportunity for ocean enthusiasts around the country. We hope that at least one of Octavius’ young will survive to adulthood in order to carry on her legacy of inspiring people the world over.
Working at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium has been a lot of fun. We’re constantly juggling visiting school groups, volunteers and live animals, and I never know what to expect each day. Although sometimes I can feel overwhelmed at the sheer amount of new things to learn, there is no other place I would rather work.
Emily Borger is a Marine Education Fellow at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island. As part of her fellowship, she teaches marine science and coastal ecology classes to Pre-K-college students. She also helps with animal husbandry and visitor services.