By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Obeka, a baby giant Pacific octopus, has taken up residence in her own small tank at the Feiro Marine Life Center on City Pier.
The center's senior octopus, Opal, is almost ready to return to the sea, said Bob Campbell, facilities supervisor at Feiro.
Opal has been at Feiro since February 2013 and has grown to about 40 pounds. With arms stretched out, the octopus measures about 8 feet in length, he said.
Curled up in her favorite corner of the huge tank she lives in, she is about as big as a beach ball.
Despite her shyness, compared with previous Feiro residents, Opal likes being petted like a cat by her human caretakers, Campbell said.
Octopus are very tactile, and most that are accustomed to human presence seem to enjoy physical human contact, he said.
Campbell said that as octopuses approach breeding age, they become more aggressive — behavior staff members have recently seen in the usually gentle Opal.
Feiro staff members will release Opal at some point in the next month at Freshwater Bay, where she was caught as a baby, so she can return to the wild and breed.
Female giant Pacific octopuses have been called the best mothers in the world.
They breed once and then starve themselves while they guard and care for their eggs.
They die soon after their eggs hatch.
Obeka, the new baby octopus, was named for Becky Jewell, a longtime Feiro volunteer who died in 2013.
Obeka is so tiny she can hide in a clamshell and feasts on tiny shore crab, which are kept live in her tank for her to catch on her own.
About as big as a cellphone, Obeka weighs less than 4 ounces and is thought to be about 18 months old.
She is already friendlier and more willing to be seen than Opal, who hid in a pot for several months before coming out to meet the public, staff said.
Earlier this week, she was balled up in a corner at the front of the tank, watching the human activity outside.
Obeka was found in Freshwater Bay by volunteers taking part in a sea star wasting disease survey during the low tides Feb. 25.
“We were lucky. We saw three octopus in one day. That's unusual. Most of the time you're lucky to see one,” said Helle Anderson, who is managing the sea star wasting disease monitoring project.
One of the octopuses was in open water and too large, and a small octopus was seen crawling over rocks exposed during low tide, Anderson said.
The smallest of the three, Obeka was found in a tidepool by a volunteer and was captured to replace Opal, Anderson said.
Feiro holds a special permit to capture and display octopuses in the education and research facility.
It is illegal to keep a giant Pacific octopus without a permit.
The Feiro Marine Life Center is open from noon to 4 p.m. daily.
Admission is free during winter operations, though donations are accepted.
Feiro is located on City Pier at 315 N. Lincoln St., near the intersection of Lincoln Street and Railroad Avenue.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.