ANCHORAGE, Alaska — It looks like J-1 is in love. After meeting the very fetching and slightly younger Aurora, he changed color and his eight arms became intertwined with hers. Then, the two retreated to a secluded corner to get to know each other better.
We’re talking about giant Pacific octopuses here.
Aquarists at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward introduced the two Tuesday, and evidently they hit it off: Spermatophores were seen hanging from J-1’s siphon.
“We really were not sure he had it in him,” SeaLife Center aquarium curator Richard Hocking said Wednesday.
Love almost passed J-1 by. At 5 years of age and 52 pounds, he’s reaching the end of the line for his species, the largest octopus in the world. J-1 is in a period of decline that occurs before an octopus dies. His skin is eroding. His suckers have divots.
“He’s not as strong as he used to be,” said aquarist Deanna Trobaugh.
With so little time left, J-1, who was collected on a beach near Seldovia in 1999 when he was about the size of a quarter, wasn’t going to let the sweet Aurora slip through his eight arms.
Aurora sank to the bottom when aquarium staff put her into J-1’s 3,600-gallon exhibit tank and promptly made the first move, reaching out to touch J-1 before retreating to her corner. But J-1 was soon in hot pursuit.
“They both were gripping the back wall of the tank. He just about covered her completely,” Hocking said.
The two remained intertwined for about eight hours. It’s possible that during that time he passed his sperm packet to her, Hocking said. When they separated, J-1 flashed some colors, turning almost white and then dark red.
“It looks like instinct took over during that encounter and they did what they were supposed to do,” Hocking said.
If Aurora did accept J-1’s spermatophores, she will produce 60,000 to 100,000 eggs. If with many, many children, Aurora — who was about the size of a grapefruit when she was found in 2002 living inside an old tire in front of the SeaLife Center — will stop eating while she tends her eggs. She will then weaken and die — a fate that J-1 also seems soon to meet.
“The goal for this was to let him lead a full life,” Hocking said.