Science

Octopus – The New Kings of The Oceans?

octopuses are back! Humans are changing the oceans composition through over-fishing, pollutants and climate change, and the result is that cephalopods (octopuses, squids and cuttlefish) are growing dramatically in population numbers.

Octopus - The New Kings of The Oceans?

The era of octopuses..

Firstly, however much your funky wordsmith friends like the word octopi, it is incorrect, so save your abusive comments and trust me, it’s octopuses…

Sharks, mostly due to the disproportionate influence of one 1970s Spielberg film, have always been seen as the bosses of the ocean, but all that may be changing based on a new study stating octopus numbers are going through the roof (rather the oceans’ floor). Perhaps it’s time for a young director trying to make his name to release a new film, focusing on our eight tentacled inky friends.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s look at what is happening in the oceans around us.  An Australian study, which was conducted over worries about declining cuttlefish populations, has turned up some interesting findings.  Essentially over the last 60 years the populations of cephalopods (our squishy sea cousins) has dramatically, consistently and globally, been on the rise.

The University of Adelaide has published the results on Monday in the science journal Current Biology.  Lead study author Zoë Doubleday said in a statement “Cephalopods are often called ‘weeds of the sea’ as they have a unique set of biological traits, including rapid growth, short lifespans and flexible development.”  This flexible development has allowed them to adapt quicker to changing conditions that has meant they have prospered more than most of the other, less versatile marine life. They have also benefited from less competition for food and living space, and a reduced number of predators.

The study focused on the numbers of cephalopods that have been appearing in fishing hauls and sampling investigations.  Going all the way back to 1953, and up to 2013, they discovered that instead of declining numbers (which they worried they would find), these creatures are appearing more and more often.  “To determine if similar patterns were occurring elsewhere, we compiled this global-scale database,” Doubleday mentioned, adding, “Surprisingly, analyses revealed that cephalopods, as a whole, are in fact increasing.”

This comes against a background of general fish populations under increasing threat (especially Cod) and coral reefs disappearing faster than scientists can keep up with.  Coral reefs are suffering a consequence of bleaching from the warmer weather (it is estimated that over 90% of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected!)

Octopus on every menu?

If you love your calamari, or enjoy a spot of octopus as your main meal this may seem like great news.  However, the butterfly effect tells us to be a little more cautious with this information.  What are the potential consequences of this rapid explosion in cephalopod population numbers? Changing the composition of the ocean can have many unexpected outcomes, we know this, but to be frank, no one really knows (hence unexpected outcomes…) what it may all mean, and this is probably the most concerning thing.

Will this trend continue, again is by no way certain.  The study continues, “[it] will be critical to manage cephalopod stocks appropriately so they do not face the same fate as many of their longer-lived counterparts.”  Nature has an uncanny ability to regulate populations, and humans (read fishermen) are always happy to lend a hand in reducing numbers so we probably don’t need to expect the earth being completely overrun just yet.