Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Cutest Baby Octopus Ever at the Biomes Center in North Kingstown

As I promised in my last post, I am going to introduce you to the cutest baby octopus ever!

Last week I returned to the Biomes Marine Biology Center in Rhode Island to see this new addition for myself. Opal is an Atlantic octopus a reef octopus that was found about 10 feet from shore in Newport, RI, on August 9th. Biomes' owner, Mark Hall, acquires octopuses each year, because their life span is only 12—14 months, and this year he planned to get a specimen in October, like he has in the past.

(UPDATE: December 4, 2012 - Opal has grown big enough to be identified as a Caribbean reef octopus, which is rarely found in New England waters. He was probably carried north on the Gulf Stream and would not have survived the East Coast winter.)

But little opal was found—amazingly, because he was the size of a dime at that point— and suddenly Mark had an early replacement for Coral, who had passed away on July 16th. Coral was one of this year's two octopuses on display at Biomes, the other being Peach (I wrote about them back on July 3rd, in this post). As of last week, Peach was still hanging in there, quite at the end of her lifespan. I plan to feature her in another post soon.

According to Mark, Opal was probably around 2 weeks old when he was found, and it is not easy to determine the gender of the Atlantic octopus species until the end of their life. But Mark has a sixth sense about them, and usually just knows if he has acquired a "he" or a "she" — but as we can see by the name selection, it really doesn't matter.

When I met Opal last week, I saw that he had grown to be about the size of a quarter (to you international folks, that is a U.S. 25-cent piece, and coincidentally approximately 25mm in diameter).

OK, are you ready?

Introducing...Opal the Magnificent!

Opal the Atlantic Octopus at the Biomes Center in Rhode Island

Ta da! 

Yes, there he is, that tiny crimson blob in the back corner of his tank. (Don't worry, close-up photos are next.)

Mark has to feed Opal because the octopus doesn't know how to hunt in this tank. Those two little transparent white marks above Opal in that first photo are little shrimp that share the tank. Normally these are prey, and when I showed up, I witnessed them playing a game of "catch me if you can" with Opal. I saw that the shrimp and Opal were eyeballing each other, and Opal would occasionally make a dash toward the shrimp, but the shrimp always won, escaping with lightning speed.

I think I'll just rest my mantle on this rock.

Eventually, the parties tired of their game, and Opal did a little strolling on his rock and around the pebble bottom of the tank.

It looks like I'm walking, but I'm really not.

Octopuses propel themselves by using a funnel, a part of their body that siphons water from their gills, through and out the funnel forcibly, creating a sort of water jet.

Opal meandered around, giving me ample opportunity to take pictures.

I wonder what the little guy was thinking. I know he wasn't feeling threatened, or else he would have made an ink cloud and escaped to another corner. I wish I could have seen him make an ink cloud, though.

In the center of the tank is a fake plant. I was happy that Opal did a little investigating there, so I could see him spread out his beautiful tentacles. I wonder what it would feel like to hold such a small octopus?

As I mentioned earlier, Mark has to feed Opal frozen crab, but here is a video from September 6th that Mark posted, showing how he is teaching Opal to hunt. You can see those transparent shrimp moving about in the tank, as well as Opal using his "jet propulsion" and using his suction cups on the sides of the glass tank. Enjoy!

If you noticed in the video, there is a flat, gray rock near the fake turtle. There is a hole under that rock, and by the end of my visit, Opal had gone under there to hide. So I felt lucky that he had been active for my viewing pleasure. It will be fun to watch Opal grow bigger and bigger over the next year. What a privilege that is!

Monday, September 10, 2012

It was a Surf's Up! Sunday at Point Judith, Rhode Island

My, oh my, like I've said before: The best adventures are the ones you stumble into blindly. On Sunday I went back to the Biomes Marine Biology Center in Rhode Island to see the new baby octopus, Opal, whom I'll write about in my next post. (You won't want to miss this—the cutest thing you'll ever see!)

Since going to South County, RI, is an hour's drive for me, I usually like to combine my effort with other errands and/or adventures, to make as much out of the trip as possible. So on this day, I planned another attempt to get onto the grounds of the Point Judith lighthouse.

This has been a sore point for me this year. I have made repeated attempts for a full 12 months to get onto the lighthouse property (which is technically government property, as it is Coast Guard operated, but they put "Dept of Homeland Security" on the signs now to make it sound more scary).

The lighthouse at Point Judith in Narragansett, Rhode Island

They usually have the gate open so visitors can walk onto the grounds, and lock it at sundown. But after tropical storm Irene hit the area in August of 2011, I was never able to get back onto the property to see how the "beach" there had changed (I say that in quotes because the shoreline by the lighthouse is all rocks—no sand). There had been some rock "sculptures" there and I wondered if the storm had wiped them out. For more background info, refer to my post from a couple of summers ago, "A True Happy Place."

After Irene blew through, they had the whole area closed for construction, which I guess was a coincidence and nothing to do with the storm. I couldn't get through the fence whenever I drove there.

This past January, I drove by and the construction was worse than ever. I went again in May, well before Memorial Day weekend, and the fence was still locked. I returned again at the beginning of August, and found the fence open, but a wedding was taking place by the lighthouse and there was a sign up, asking the public to respect the privacy of the wedding couple. I felt like the Universe was conspiring to keep me away from the one place in that area where I feel like my soul cannot be denied.

So this weekend, I had no idea what I would find. Would the gate, for some reason, be closed now that it's after Labor Day? Even though it usually isn't?

A great feeling of relief came over me when I drove down Ocean Road and saw people lingering around the lighthouse. And cars—more cars than I have ever seen there—were parked all the way up the road.

The reason? Surf's up!

Point Judith is known as a surfing hotspot, but what I didn't realize is that the wave action created by tropical storm Leslie—even as far out to sea as it was—combined itself with high tide Sunday afternoon...and...well, as you'll see...word got out.

I hurried over the hump of lawn and headed down to the "beach" to see how the landscape had changed. And I got the surprise of my life.



Somebody...or some bodies...over whatever time period since a year ago August, had created this:

(click on photos for larger views)

Now it's unfortunate that I cannot put a panoramic, up-close viewfinder in this blog, because it's impossible to show how extensive and beautiful it was.

Was the Universe making my heart ache this past year so that I could be greeted with a giant, joyful surprise such as this? I mean, whose idea was it? Have people been feeling the love and adding to the display over the past months, or did just a few folks endeavor to create this all by themselves as a project? I guess I'll never know.

Surf's up at Point Judith, Rhode Island

I counted enough surfers out around the entire Point that it would be accurate to say there were at least 50 of them riding the most excellent waves out there (plus two men, I sea kayaks...not sure if that was on purpose). Sunday at Point Judith is the only time I've seen that many surfers getting such great wave action there.

People had come with their tripods to take photos of their buddies surfing, or for whatever other reason. 

Spectators who don't surf just came to watch, as the clouds from earlier in the day gave way to very warm, late-afternoon sunshine in the dry September air. 

It's addictive to try to get the best photo, or the best video of somebody getting a good ride on the biggest wave.

I must have been there watching for 45 minutes.

It may not be the North Shore of Oahu here, but for these guys (and gals) a day like this comes maybe once or twice a year.

What surprises have you found on your adventures this year?

If you'd like to know more about Point Judith, my Beach eGuide is available at the Beach Bath and Trash website.