Painful Truth: Cephalopods here and gone

Langley Advance reporter Matthew Claxton gets all squishy in this week's column.

The tale of Inky, a New Zealand octopus and escape artist, has bounced around the world over the last few days.

Inky was brought to the National Aquarium of New Zealand after being accidentally caught by fishermen.

He was loaded into a tank, named, and expected to stay put. Instead, he pushed his way out of the tank, crawled over to a seawater outflow pipe, and off he went.

We’re encouraged to imagine Inky off in the wilds of the South Pacific, jetting about with his suckered limbs trailing behind him like streamers.

And it is pretty cool, but Inky’s escape is likely to be short lived. He’s going to die soon.

Octopuses are one of the most tragic animals of our oceans.

They are one of the smartest critters going. Octopuses can open jars, repeatedly escape from captivity, they can use tools and items for camouflage and will sometimes keep particularly useful items for later. They are curious explorers who seem to have distinct personalities.

They have even been seen apparently playing, something that normally comes up only among large-brained mammals like dogs, cats, and humans. Crows and a handful of birds seem to play, but octopuses? They’re molluscs, boneless and more closely related to common garden snails than to anything with a spinal column.

If octopuses are truly smart, they are the most alien intelligences we have found on this planet.

And that’s the tragic side of this. Octopuses just don’t live that long.

A good-sized species like the common octopus or the Pacific giant octopus (native to our waters) might live as long as five years.

Then they mate. The males waste away within a few months.

The females will lay their eggs, long jewel-like strands of them hanging from the roof of an undersea cavern. The female octopus will guard this nursery while the little octopus embryos grow and develop, cleaning the eggs and blowing water over them.

This intensive care leaves her with no time to eat. The mother octopus died shortly after her eggs hatch, releasing hundreds of thousands of tiny octopuses, most the size of a grain of rice, into the ocean. Most of them will perish before reaching adulthood.

One of the weirdest, most intelligent animals on the planet, and we can’t get the chance to really get to know them…

Read Matthew Claxton’s Painful Truth at LangleyAdvance.com

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