From the scuttle of shore crabs to the spray of clams, the intertidal zone is always teeming with new and exciting life! We visited Piggott Bay with the Mayne Island School at low tide to see what we could discover, and the beach did not disappoint. After navigating rocky crevices encrusted in acorn barnacles and mats of mussels, we stumbled upon a Giant Pacific octopus! Or rather, what was left of this awesome creature.
The excitement and curiosity of the students and staff alike was electric as we gathered around for a closer look. These underwater behemoths can grow to be 9 m wide, although most are around 5 m from one tentacle tip to another. The bulk of the tentacles were gone from the octopus that washed up at Piggott Bay, but a couple of massive suction cups could still be seen.
Some octopi have over 2000 suction cups that they use to move and sense the world around them via touch, smell, and taste. As a response to what they sense in their environment, octopi become champions of costume change, able to alter the colour and even texture of their bodies in the blink of an eye using specialized skin cells.
As if the sheer size of these underwater animals isn’t impressive enough, they’re also known for being incredibly intelligent – and who wouldn’t be, if they had nine brains? Each octopus has one central brain and an additional, smaller brain in each of their eight arms, helping them move their arms and even their suction cups independently.
Most Giant Pacific octopus live three to five years in the wild. After mating, a female will lay tens of thousands of eggs in a den and spend the rest of her life caring for them. In an ultimate sacrifice for her children, she won’t eat while caring for the eggs, and will die shortly after they hatch.
It’s incredible to think that just below the waves, octopi and other marvelous marine animals are going about their business while we go about ours on land. When we find marine animals washed ashore after death, it’s best to leave them where they are. As much as birth or growth, death is a natural part of the circle of life. Decomposing animals have an important role to play in shoreline ecosystems, feeding energy back into the food web to sustain other life.