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Why Scheduling Octopus Sex for Human Viewing Might Always Be A Bad Idea

Fifi, one of the star octopuses of the Seattle Aquarium. (Photo: Flickr/Laszlo Ilyes)

For 10 years, the octopuses of the Puget Sound have wondered why, around the same time every year, the humans removed two of their number, only to return them a short time later. This year, the octopuses are experiencing a temporary reprieve: the Seattle Aquarium has cancelled its Octopus Blind Date event. No public octopi sex for human entertainment this V-Day!

According to a Crosscut interview with Seattle Aquarium curator Tim Carpenterthere was a good chance this year’s event might not create the romantic atmosphere one would expect of a public octopus mating. The selected bachelor, a 70-pound giant Pacific octopus named Kong, might have decided to eat his date instead.

It came down to a problem of size—they just couldn’t find a female big enough to take on Kong. As Carpenter explained to Crosscut, “Even if we put a 30- or 45-pound female out there, there’s a chance he would see her as food. We were looking for an animal of at least 60, 65 pounds.”

A giant Pacific Octopus. (Photo: Flickr/Ruth Hartnup)

Had the Octopus Blind Date gone according to plan, though, the outcome might still have been a little grim. Giant Pacific octopuses are terminal breeders, meaning that they die soon after mating and only mate a handful of times during their lives. Additionally, recent research has shown that octopus mating habits can be violent. In 2014, researchers observed a female octopus strangling her mate with three arms, then eating him (the mating attempt was successful). Sexual cannibalism isn’t unusual among octopuses and is likely a byproduct of their extremely solitary nature, as the BBC explains. Octopuses generally only interact with each other out of aggression or mating instinct, and if the female is hungry those instincts may conflict. Basically, an octopus blind date is exactly like a human blind date.

The Seattle Aquarium has had problems with hungry octopuses before. In 2006, the aquarium staff temporarily moved an octopus to a shark tank, assuming the cephalopod would opt to stay hidden. The octopus instead decided to kill and eat one of the sharks. Octopuses seem to be a little troublesome for the aquarium in general—last year the aquarium experienced a viral moment when an octopus was filmed seemingly trying to escape from its tank (the aquarium explained the octopus was new to the tank and simply exploring his boundaries).

Octopus Week is still being held at the aquarium, and the staff have planned an alternative to today’s cancelled blind date: rather than setting Kong up with a female octopus, he’ll spend some quality time in the tank with a human pal. For Kong, at least, it’s Singles' Day.

The 2014 Octopus Blind Date. No octopuses were eaten in the making of this film. (Video: Youtube/Seattle Aquarium)