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Researchers seek octopus from local fisheries bycatch

A woman wearing a cloth mask stands in front of an aquarium tank holding a Giant Pacific Octopus.
Jaimie Hart
Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitors Center Aquarist Jaimie Hart stands in front of a tank holding a Giant Pacific Octopus.

Oregon State University’s marine researchers want an octopus. They’re asking local fishermen to let them know if they happen to find one.

OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport keeps an octopus for 6 to 9 months before returning it to the wild.

Jaimie Hart is the Visitors Center Aquarist. She said they observe behavior and physical changes and what those changes might mean.

“For example, before an octopus might enter its reproductive stage, there’s physical signs that change, their eyes and their skin,” said Hart.

She said it’s not easy to go out in the ocean and find one Giant Pacific Octopus. So local fishermen are their main source for the cephalopods, She said they’re sometimes accidental stowaways.

Hatfield Marine Science Center on X (Twitter)

“An octopus may see a perfectly easy meal in this crab pot,” said Hart. So they climb in there and get pulled on fishing vessels as bycatch. So, we’re super appreciative of the local fishermen who do call us for donations, because that’s basically our sole resource for them.”

Hart said she thinks it’s more likely that someone will pull up an octopus once crabbing season gets underway. She said they’re putting together kits to hand out to fishermen to safely transport octopuses to shore.

When they receive an octopus, they go through a 30 day quarantine period. During that time they work to build trust between the octopus and the handler. Then they can start to acclimate them to being on exhibit.

Hart said she loves working with octopus.

“It’s amazing. It’s my favorite part of the job,” she said. “They’re extremely intelligent creatures. Every day you learn something new. We really appreciate when we have one in our care so we can learn more and convey what we’re learning to the public. It’s the best part of the job.”

When they have an octopus in residence, the public can watch it during feeding sessions at the Hatfield Marine Sciences visitor center.

When it’s time to return the octopus to the wild, Hart said, they are able to tag along on a research vessel from OSU and find a rocky reef offshore and release the octopus out there.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.