A 19-day expedition by an international team of scientists revealed two octopus nurseries, a new species of octopus, and more stunning biodiversity in the deep sea off Costa Rica's coast.
Off the western shore of Costa Rica, researchers have discovered a rare deep-sea octopus nursery, bringing the world’s total number of known nurseries to three.
The nursery was rife with octopus mothers and new hatchlings, according to a statement from the Schmidt Ocean Institute.
Scientists were also able to confirm that another known aggregation of deep-sea octopus, known as the Dorado Outcrop, is also an active nursery.
Perhaps even more excitingly, however, researchers believe that the octopuses found off the Costa Rican shore may be a new species of Muusoctopus, a small-to-medium-sized octopus that does not have an ink sac.
The team who made the discovery was comprised of 18 international scientists led by Beth Orcutt of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine and Jorge Cortes of the University of Costa Rica. Over the course of a 19-day “Octopus Odyssey,” the team explored five never-before-seen seamounts in the waters off Costa Rica, which contained hundreds of animals — including many new species.
“The discovery of a new active octopus nursery over 2,800 meters beneath the sea surface in Costa Rican waters proves there is still so much to learn about our Ocean,” said Schmidt Ocean Institute Executive Director Jyotika Virmani. “The deep-sea off Costa Rica rides the edge of human imagination, with spectacular footage collected by ROV SuBastian of tripod fish, octopus hatchlings, and coral gardens. We look forward to continuing to help the world witness and study the wonders of our incredible Ocean.”
Half of the research team was made up of Costa Rican scientists who were, in part, looking to determine if the seamounts — effectively underwater mountains — where the octopus nurseries reside, including the Dorado Outcrop, should be designated marine protected areas. At the present moment, these areas are unprotected from human activities.
The Dorado Outcrop, and other seamounts, are particularly notable because their discovery has upended previous notions about octopus behavior. According to the institute, roughly 100 female octopuses are brooding their eggs at the Dorado Outcrop, which is the “size of a soccer field.”
The congregation of octopuses in the area shocked experts at the time of its first discovery in 2013, largely because most cephalopod researchers considered octopuses to be solitary creatures. Previous studies examined octopuses fighting over territory or mating only toward the end of their life, and female octopuses generally brooded their eggs alone in rocky crevices, dying shortly after their eggs hatched.
However, when they first discovered the Dorado Outcrop, researchers did not notice any developing embryos, leading them to believe the area was too warm for the octopuses to produce viable offspring. The recent expedition proved this wrong, and researchers were gifted the opportunity to witness the octopus babies hatch.
Among the seamounts, the team also witnessed “thriving biodiversity” and captured footage of an odd-looking tripod fish and coral gardens in addition to the octopus hatchlings.
Though its government protects numerous seamounts off the Costa Rican coast, this region, along the northwest edge of the Pacific Ocean, has received notably less attention.
“This expedition to the Pacific deep waters of Costa Rica has been a superb opportunity for us to get to know our own country,” Cortes said. “The information, samples, and images are important to Costa Rica to show its richness and will be used for scientific studies, and outreach to raise awareness of what we have and why we should protect it.”
After reading about these newly discovered octopus nurseries, read about other unique octopuses, like the coconut octopus that uses coconuts and shells as armor or the adorable dumbo octopus that makes its way through the ocean using elephant-ear fins.