ROTTERDAM — The VIA Aquarium in Rotterdam boasts a brand-new octopus.
One thing’s missing: a name.
That’s where you come in.
A California two-spot octopus has joined the aquarium from Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. where it was raised until it was about six months old. On May 20, the VIA Aquarium will be holding a “Name Our Octopus Day” where attendees can vote on what to call the cephalopod. The aquarium will come up with eight names — one for each tentacle — and those at the event will vote for the favorite. The winner will become the animal’s moniker.
“My personal favorite is Dakota,” Julie McNulty, biology manager at the aquarium said.
VIA Aquarium puts on educational demonstrations that allow children to get a deeper view of the marine life. Shannon Perrott heads the education department and leads several of these demonstrations.
“I love to talk about camouflage, they’re [octopuses] in particular amazing at mimicry and camouflage. So being able to have some fun with kids and ask ‘can you find this animal?’”is really fun because he blends in really well with the tank,” Perrott said.
VIA Aquarium prioritizes conservation and partners with several organizations to assist in these efforts. Perrott believes that by exposing people to the animal, it will ignite their drive to participate in such efforts.
“Octopuses are really intelligent creatures. Being able to bring attention to them and their conservation is really important,” Perrott said. “Having a naming event will hopefully bring more attention to octopuses.”
McNulty echoed these beliefs. As a Schenectady native who discovered her penchant for the ocean quite young, she is well aware of the impact a resource like an aquarium has.
“When you know about something, you can appreciate it,” McNulty said. “Hopefully that can light the spark for participating in conservation efforts.”
As biology manager, McNulty oversees the daily care of the octopus. In addition to regular tasks such as feeding, the aquarium needs to make sure the octopus’s tank is extra secure.
“They’re masters of escape,” McNulty said. “So we need to seal everything up and get special locks for the tank.”
The California two-spot lives deeper in the sea, where it’s much darker and colder, McNulty said. To ensure the animal’s comfort, the aquarium at Via Port Rotterdam tries to match these conditions.
The octopus’s tank will have extra filtration to help keep the water especially clean. It will also feature a chiller to keep the tank cool.
“They can be sensitive animals,” McNulty said.
To further match deep-sea conditions, the tank will be kept darker than others.
“Between the darkness and the reflection of the tank, the octopus won’t be able to see out [of the tank] much,” McNulty said. “So, it’s important not to take flash photography, so it doesn’t get spooked.”
The Rotterdam-based octopus has a body about seven to eight inches in length. From tentacle to tentacle, it spans around 23 inches.
“Which is really great because as a medium-sized one, it’s a good fit for our tanks while also being a good size to display,” McNulty said.
“Zoos and aquariums, we really like to get animals from each other or labs. It’s really important to disturb the natural population as least as possible,” McNulty said.
This is not the first octopus to find a home at VIA Aquarium. Another cephalopod lived at VIA until it passed away a few years ago. Octopus lifespans are quite short; they usually live for just a year or two.
“Unfortunately, by the time they’re a good display size, they’re entering that second half of their life,” McNulty said.
The aquarium hopes to possibly extend that, while maintaining a rich quality of life as well. One way they keep the animal enriched is by providing it with toys allowing it to exercise its impressive intelligence.
“What this looks like is a lot of food puzzles,” McNulty said. “Food is a great motivator.”
McNulty has previously worked with cuttlefish, which she referred to as “kind of like a cousin of the octopus.”
This is McNulty’s first time working with a California two spot, the old octopus belonged to a different subspecies.
“I’m excited to work with a new species,” she said. “Some octopuses— like the Giant Pacific— really form a bond with their keepers.”
McNulty described how the suckers on their tentacles work as taste buds and help them to remember their keeper, especially if the keeper sticks their arm in the tank and allows the octopus to feel them. Unlike other aquatic creatures with lower brain capacity, octopuses have the ability to remember things.
“I also think they see our blue shirts and can tell us apart from guests,” McNulty said.
‘Name Our Octopus Day’ will be held on Saturday, May 20 at the VIA aquarium inside Via Port Rotterdam. The aquarium is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The event will feature lessons on the octopus, as well as octopus-themed crafts and activities.
Contact reporter Ameara Ditsche at [email protected]. Keep up with her on Twitter @amearaisawriter.