A catch and release aquarium?

Ucluelet-Aquarium

Ever feel conflicted about watching animals in captivity? Zoos and aquariums do important research, species reintroduction, and education, but when the last frontier for wild animals is a confined space I feel sad. However Ucluelet aquarium on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island has a new spin on animal attractions. Each spring, volunteers go into the cool Pacific waters and gather specimens for the aquarium and at the end of November those same creatures are released back to where they came!

Some creatures – like sea anemones – that attach to rocks stay year-round (ripping them off would be very harmful) but anything that is free swimming goes home to the ocean at the end of the tourist season. Visitors can enjoy the colorful flash of a rockfish but its stay at the aquarium will be just a short part of its decades-long lifespan.

On the day I visited the Ucluelet Aquarium one of the three Giant Pacific octopuses crept out of it’s den and stuck its tentacles to the walls of its tank. As it normally avoids the light, Chief Biologist Carly Janusson felt it was looking for food and brought a live crab to drop into the tank. It wasn’t a good day for the crab – the octopus pounced on it within seconds of its arrival – but I learned that octopus put their prey to sleep before they eat it, a kind gesture from the ocean’s fastest-growing predator. You can see the hunt on my video at https://youtu.be/V3TjGdv5tFU

Janusson explained, “octopuses double in weight every two months and in a month we will need to move this octopus to a larger tank and in a couple of months we will need to release her back to the ocean because she will be too big.” Unlike the other creatures that spend the whole summer, the aquarium will replace the octopus as they grow out of their tanks.

An octopus is very smart and it can be hard to keep them confined. “We’ve never had an octopus escape,” said Janusson, “but other aquariums like Seattle aquarium have had octopus that escape their tank via the plumbing, go into other tanks, eat the fish in there, and then go bank into the tank before the workers come back in the morning!”

The octopus I watched wouldn’t need to escape like Inky at the National Aquarium of New Zealand: it will get a free ride back to the ocean after the good eats have it outgrowing its enclosure. To learn more about the temporary residents of Ucluelet Aquarium go to http://www.uclueletaquarium.org

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