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Mystery of California’s octopus garden in ocean’s midnight zone solved by scientists

Deep-sea octopuses are typically solitary creatures that inhabit frigid waters in one of Earth’s most challenging environments.

The 2018 discovery of thousands of the eight-legged cephalopods about 2 miles below the ocean’s surface flummoxed and fascinated marine scientists in equal measure. The consortium of octopuses clustered around a hydrothermal vent — an opening in the seafloor where warm, chemical-rich fluids flow out — about 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) down in what’s known as the midnight zone, a place of perpetual darkness.

The octopus garden — found on a small hill near the base of Davidson Seamount, an extinct underwater volcano 80 miles (128.7 kilometers) southwest of Monterey, California — was full of a species called Muusoctopus robustus, nicknamed the pearl octopus by the research team because of the way they look while upside down protecting their eggs.

The find is the largest known aggregation of octopuses on the planet — researchers counted more than 6,000 octopuses in just one segment of the site.

“We think there may be 20,000 octopus there. And the question is, well, why are they there? And why are they aggregating? It looks like the warm waters that are emanating from these springs is a key to why these animals are breeding there,” said Jim Barry, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Researchers believe the octopuses migrate to the deep-sea thermal springs in such numbers to mate and nest, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. After laying eggs, expectant octopus moms keep the eggs clean and guard them from predators. The warmer temperatures speed up the creatures’ embryonic development.

“Very long brooding periods increase the likelihood that a mother’s eggs won’t survive. By nesting at hydrothermal springs, octopus moms give their offspring a leg up,” explained Barry, who was the lead author of the study.

The ambient water temperature at 10,500 feet is 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 degrees Celsius). However, the water temperature in cracks and crevices at the octopus garden reaches about 51 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius).

Underwater technology

The researchers at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and their colleagues at other institutions used state-of-the-art underwater technology to understand the octopus garden.

The institute’s ROV Don Ricketts went on 14 day-long follow-up dives to the site between 2019 and 2022, taking high-definition video of the octopuses and mapping the octopus garden at a meter-scale resolution.

The remotely operated submersible also left a time-lapse camera and sensors to measure temperature and oxygen levels for long-term observations of the octopuses’ behavior. The camera recorded an image every 20 minutes, taking about 12,200 images from March 2022 to August 2022.

Faster brood times in the octopus garden

https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2023/08/23/mystery-of-octopus-garden-in-oceans-midnight-zone-solved-by-scientists/ Mystery of California’s octopus garden in ocean’s midnight zone solved by scientists

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