Every once in a while, there’s a story that stays with us because of its resonance—a story that touches us all. Due to the presence of eight tentacles, this cannot help but become one of those stories that touches us, everywhere.
[Original text in black bold; my comments in regular italics.]
AP story, via CNN:
Octopus doesn't give up on motherhood--'She didn't want to leave them'
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- It was a May-December romance that really had legs: Young Aurora, a female giant octopus and her aging cephalopod suitor J-1 were thrown together for a blind date seven months ago by aquarists who hoped the two would mate.
A young female, an aging cephalopod suitor...it’s like The Anna Nicole Smith Story all over again.
By all appearances, their fling was a success, and Aurora began dribbling long strings of eggs down the sides of her tank the following month.
It’s the moment that all little girls dream of…finding someone experienced to support us and father long strings of eggs that dribble down the sides of our tanks.
Though her sweetheart died of old age in September, the pitter-patter of tiny tentacles seemed close at hand.
J-1 was irreplaceable, but thousands of eggs would help. Aurora found herself wondering if she’d ever look into their beady little eyes and see remnants of their father.
But those tens of thousands of eggs remained pearly white with no signs of developing, and aquarists at the Alaska Sealife Center concluding that the eggs were likely sterile began draining Aurora's 3,600-gallon (13,630-liter) tank so she could be removed from display.
…and so she could mourn in solitude.
Then, last week, a sharp-eyed intern at the center in Seward noticed something peculiar in each of the eggs: two red dots.
So much for the eggs being kosher. (“Traditionally, eggs are examined in a glass cup to ascertain that they contain no blood.”-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosher#Eggs)
"I asked if that was normal," said 24-year-old Meghan Kokal. It was, for baby octopus eyes.
Which, unlike Baby Fish Mouth, are not sweeping the nation.
Under a microscope, aquarists saw developing eyes and pulsing mantles.
Pulsing mantles…mmm….who’s hungry?
A brief meeting was held. It was decided that Aurora would stay in her tank after all. "We started to fill it up again," Hocking said.
What a great job—fill the tank, empty the tank, refill the tank. Ah the memories of working with sea life…I predict a swell of applicants to marine biology programs everywhere.
AURORA’S CHOICE: A MOTHER’S DETERMINATION
To her credit, Aurora had never given up. Day in and day out for months, she sent waves of water out through her siphon to gently cleanse her eggs, and defended them against hungry sea cucumbers and starfish.
I know that’s supposed to sound threatening, but I’m giggling. Is that wrong?
Aurora probably had some moments of "quiet desperation" last Tuesday while several hundred gallons of water were drained from her tank, said aquarium curator Richard Hocking. As the water went down, one of the aquarists placed some of the eggs that had fallen from the sides of the tank on a rock shelf. Even then, Aurora persevered. "She didn't want to leave them. As the water was going down she was going down with it. She would spray a burst of water on the rocks on top of them," Kokal said.
As in human mother-child relations, this illustrates both the fierce loyalty of a mother for her children and the fine line between nurturing your progeny and drowning them.
ENCHANTMENT UNDER THE SEA DANCE—BEHIND THE ROMANCE
And now, the romantic backstory you’ve all been waiting for. How did these crazy kids meet? And how, in a vast sea of potential mates, did they manage to find each other? What can we learn from their success?
Aurora and J-1 surprised everyone on the morning of May 11 when they hit it off almost immediately after their introduction, embracing for hours in a dark corner of the tank, which is part of the center's "Denizens of the Deep" exhibit.
All that embracing…sounds like it could lead to dancing…
At 5 years of age, J-1, who up until meeting Aurora had lived a strictly bachelor life, was considered elderly for his species, the largest octopus in the world. He was already in a period of decline that occurs before an octopus dies; his skin was eroding, and his suckers were pocked with divots.
I’ll say it again…mmm, who’s hungry?
Though the two had canoodled intensely days before, J-1 began acting cranky with Aurora and he was removed from her tank.
Why are men always like that? No matter how many times they promise things will be okay, it always gets awkward…
Female Giant Pacific octopuses can choose to conceive in what is known as delayed fertilization. Apparently, J-1 had the right stuff, and the privacy was just what Aurora needed, as she began laying eggs just a few days later.
That’s it—we’re not “waiting till it’s too late to have children,” we’re “engaging in delayed fertilization.” Way to take control of the situation, Aurora—you go, girl!
Aurora, believed to be 3 or 4, was about the size of a grapefruit when she was found in 2002 living inside an old tire in front of the SeaLife Center. J-1 died on Sept. 8. He was about the size of a quarter when found on a beach near Seldovia in 1999.
Oy, nebuch. Homeless and living inside a tire…that’s worse than living in a van, down by the river. Even from the start, J-1 had it easier…
In the wild, Giant Pacific octopus females stop eating when caring for eggs, weaken and die about the same time as the eggs hatch. Hocking said Aurora has lost a lot of weight and can't change colors as rapidly as when she was younger. Her skin also is stretched thinner and her suckers are less pliable.
I feel ya, sister. None of us change colors as fast as we used to. And our suckers? Let’s just say we’ve been considering implants.
"She looks like an old octopus," Hocking said.
I wish this Hocking guy would stop hocking me a chynik about how old Aurora looks. Why should she have to confirm to society’s standards of beauty and youth?
Aurora will be allowed to stay with her eggs as long as she continues to care for them. When they are close to hatching, which could be as late as spring, they will be moved to rearing tanks.
Just like what happens on an Israeli kibbutz.
Perhaps none or as many as a few thousand could survive, Hocking said.
I would bet that Hocking’s online dating profile contains thrillingly vague statements like: “I like life and all it has to offer,” “I love to laugh,” and “I’m a nice guy.” But just between us, a statistician, he ain’t.
Kokal, who is working on a degree in environmental science from Northern Arizona University, likes the idea of several thousand baby octopuses at the SeaLife Center. "That would be very nice," she said.
“That would be a very big understatement,” I said. Sure, it’s all fine and well until said octopuses take over the SeaLife Center. Has no one ever seen Peter Benchley’s The Beast???
So what have we learned, children?
- Sometimes, blind dates do work out well. Especially if by “work out well” we mean the elderly male goes gently into that dark night and the younger woman pines for him and for her children until all her bodily strength is depleted.
- Men are all grabby-hands (although, in this case, so was the woman…) and don’t deal well with the consequences of their actions.
- Spray your offspring with your love, but know when you’ve sprayed enough.
- There should be room for the phrase “suckers pocked with divots” in contemporary discourse.
- Even octopuses are being judged as not pretty enough.
- One should never read stories about octopuses before dinner time.