Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA
Summer has certainly flown by! As we enter fall and the winter months, we are very excited to share with you this awesome article to warm your ocean soul! It’s on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new exhibit, “Tentacles, The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes”. It’s one of kind and worth taking a trip to see if you are near the aquarium. Even if you’re not close, make a trip just to see it! It will be worth it! Thank you to Karen Jeffries and her staff for all the help in creating this article. All photography is copyright of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
In Ocean4 news, we are launching a new series of coloring activity sheets this winter. One of them being on Cuttlefish! We are also moving BTG from a monthly publication to quarterly. Be sure to sign up for the mailing list to have a heads up for every new BTG article. Signing up is easy, just click here.
Q: What inspired the Monterey Bay Aquarium to create “Tentacles”?
A: Humans have been fascinated with cephalopods for thousands of years – as evident in decorative art from ancient Pompeii to current steampunk style. Octopuses, squid, cuttlefishes and nautiluses are like aliens, and we wanted to share with the public the history, beauty, diversity and oddity of these cool critters.
Q: How long did the exhibit take to complete from design plans to actual construction?
A: Two years.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the exhibit to install or create?
A: The biggest challenge was the live animals. They are short-lived, usually nocturnal and masters of camouflage. Our big breakthrough came when a few intrepid aquarists figured out how to culture several species successfully – a first in itself – which assured a steady supply of critters for the two-year run of the special exhibition. They also refined lighting and aquascaping techniques for individual exhibits to keep the animals more visible to the public while still offering the animals the security and protection they require.
Q: How many different species are in the exhibit? Why were these particular species chosen for the exhibit?
A: There are 12 exhibits in all, but over the life of “Tentacles,” visitors might see any of the two dozen species –including eggs and tiny babies – that will rotate through those exhibits, including the giant Pacific octopus, Wunderpus octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, big fin reef squid, mimic octopus, Hawaiian bobtail squid. On occasion visitors may also see rarely- or never-before exhibited deep sea squid and octopuses – such as the dumbo octopus and vampire squid – collected in collaboration with our partner organization, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
Q: There are many stories of octopuses escaping from tanks due to their inquisitive personalities and intellect. How were the tanks designed having this aspect of the species in mind?
A: Octopuses can indeed crawl out of and through many things. We cover the removable top aprons above the exhibits with artificial grass. It’s one of the only surfaces an octopus can’t get a good grip on, even with hundreds of suckers. Bigfin reef squid can grow up to a foot long, and are powerful enough to jet out of the water, so we surround their exhibit with mesh to prevent unintended escapes.
Q: What do the different creatures eat? How much food does the aquarium go through in a week for them?
A:Most eat small crustaceans such as shrimp and krill, or small fishes, or cut up pieces of either or both.
Interesting note about the culinary habits of the bigfin reef squid: It has a small mouth that allows it to take only tiny bites because its esophagus goes through its ring-shaped brain. Eating a fish whole would rupture its brain and it would die! How odd is that?!
I just received a live food invoice that we typically receive 2-3 times per week. After tallying up the quantities for each feeder item, it looks like we feed our around 10,000 live feeder items a week. This accounts for salt/freshwater shrimp and salt/freshwater fish. This doesn’t take into account mysid shrimp. We also feed many of our larger animals and octos frozen food. If you are looking for the total food item quantity for one week, you could probably just double our live food amount. This makes 20,000 food items a week. If you include mysid shrimp, it’s probably more like 25,000 items.
Q: What do people most love about this exhibit?
A: The interesting animals, and the variety of animals tops the list. But visitors also love the entire sensory experience of “Tentacles” – from the intriguing art and artifacts at the entrance that introduce visitors to cephalopods, to the tantalizing music in each gallery, to the unique and fun interactive displays that let visitors experience just a little of what it’s like to be one of the coolest creatures in the ocean.
Q: What is the most important thing you would like visitors to take away after experiencing “Tentacles”?
A: This is a great opportunity for visitors to meet these animals that capture our imagination and explore ways to protect them for the future.
Q: What are some specific conservation issues or facts specific to octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes?
A: Cephalopods share the same issues that most marine creatures face: overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction. To illustrate these threats in “Tentacles,” the aquarium commissioned San Francisco Bay Area artist Nemo Gould to create three kinetic sculptures to show how pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction threated octopuses, nautiluses and cuttlefishes, respectively. Gould created the whimsical sculptures using found objects, including shoe stretchers, ice cream scoops, juicers, chandelier parts, test tubes, egg slicers, floor drain traps, chair legs and more. He has transformed a jumble of junk into delightful dioramas that deliver conservation messages through a sense of wonderment.
Q: What is your personal favorite aspect of the exhibit?
A: For the critters, it’s a pretty close tie between the flamboyant cuttlefish, with its Mardi-Gras coloring and chunky body, and the bigfin reef squid, because they’re so alien-like, with their floaty movements and huge eyes that stare right back at you.
The other aspect I love is the art and artifacts at the introduction to “Tentacles.” It’s all fascinating, but my favorite has to be the hand-painted glass models of two squids and an octopus. The models are 129 years old, and were created by the father/son team of Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, natural history artists who created a glass menagerie of marine animals, literally thousands of specimens accurate to the smallest detail. So magically beautiful and detailed was their work that it was described as “an artistic marvel in the field of science and a scientific marvel in the field of art.”