• José H. Leal

The Octopus Garden

Imagine a large “nursery” of more than a thousand brooding female octopuses assembling in a relatively small area. That is the Octopus Garden, located off the central coast of California. Muusoctopus robustus measures around 380 mm (about 15 inches) in size and was first named in 1990 by Gilbert L. Voss* (University of Miami) and William G. Pearcy (Oregon State University). Back then, scientists had no idea that some deep-sea octopuses could actually spawn together, then proceed to take care of eggs in such large aggregations.

Muusoctopus robustus in the Octopus Garden, © Ocean Exploration Trust.

The Octopus Garden is located near Davidson Seamount, a submarine mountain that rises from the abyssal seafloor to reach about “only” 2 km (1.24 miles) from the sea surface. Its discovery took place in October 2018, by Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) staff working aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. The nursery is explained by MBNMS Marine Biologist Dr. Chad King in a video segment (below) created by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The Octopus Garden discovery also highlights the importance of protected areas and preserves, as the Octopus Garden is located within the boundaries of the MBNMS, one of 13 National Marine Sanctuaries managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Watch the video here.

*[The species was named in 1990 by Gilbert L. Voss and William G. Pearcy. Gil was one of the leading cephalopod specialists of his time. He was also the head of the academic committee for my Ph.D. in Marine Biology and Fisheries at the University of Miami. The species description is in: Voss, G.L. & W.G. Pearcy. 1990. Deep-water octopods of the northeastern Pacific. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 47(3): 47–94.]