Swarms of Octopus Are Taking Over the Oceans

Swarms of Octopus Are Taking Over the Oceans
Giant Australian cuttlefish (Sepia apama). Image: Wildlife Photographer Scott Portelli

Something strange is happening to the oceans. As coral reefs wither and fisheries collapse, octopuses are multiplying like mad. As soon as they perceive weakness, they will amass an army and invade the land, too.

Okay, that last statement is probably pure paranoia. But it is a bit unsettling that cephalopods—squids, octopuses, cuttlefish—are booming, and scientists don’t know why. An analysis published today in Current Biology indicates that numerous species across the world’s oceans have increased in numbers since the 1950s.

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“The consistency was the biggest surprise,” said lead study author Zoë Doubleday of the University of Adelaide. “Cephalopods are notoriously variable, and population abundance can fluctuate wildly, both within and among species.”

 

It was one such wild fluctuation that inspired the new study. A few years back, the giant Australian cuttlefish, pictured above, experienced a sudden and dramatic population crash. “They almost disappeared completely,” Doubleday told Gizmodo, adding that one of her co-authors had the idea to look at boom-bust cycles across other cephalopod populations to see if there were any patterns. “We didn’t know how much data would be out there, but we managed to get quite a bit together,” Doubleday said.

Pulling together fishery data and previous scientific surveys, the team managed to assemble a time series of population information on 35 species or genera of cephalopods, spanning all major ocean regions from 1953 to 2013. While there was substantial year-to-year variability, and a small number of species declined, overall, many cephalopod populations in many parts of the ocean have increased in numbers. (The giant Australian cuttlefish has also begun to recover.)

So, why are cephalopods kicking butt when pretty much everything else in the oceans is dying? Doubleday and her co-authors are still investigating, but they suspect it has to do with rapid population turnover rates. “Cephalopods tend to boom and bust—they’re called the weeds of the sea,” Doubleday said. “If environmental conditions are good, they can rapidly exploit those conditions because they grow so fast.”

One reason environmental conditions might have improved is that humans are picking off cephalopods’ main competitors—predatory fish. Other large-scale changes like global warming could also be playing a role. “I don’t think it’s any one single factor,” Doubleday said. “But something’s changing on quite a large scale that’s giving cephalopods an edge.”

Another strange possibility is that cephalopods will become too weedy and run out of food. If that happens? “They’re highly cannibalistic—they might start eating each other if they overgrow,” Doubleday said.

In short, it’s too early to predict whether octopuses will continue to boom or whether the oceans will devolve into a frenzied cannibalism fest. Still, if an intelligent race of tentacled underwater beings winds up outmaneuvering us and taking over the planet, we can’t say there weren’t warning signs.

 

Source gizmodo.com

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37 Comments

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  1. I used to work at Sunderland fish quay, north east of England. The lads have been telling me they’ve seen a lot more octopuses in the last year or so. They are putting it down to global warming. Spider crabs are getting up through the English channel as well. Anything that can’t handle a touch of cold couldn’t live in the north sea a while back.

  2. Its pretty crazy apparently theyre multiplying at an enormous rate..last year jelly fish were doing the same thing but theyve not reported on them for ages soo now its the octopuses. .the whole ocean is changing the world with it..i think we can expect even more bizzare occurrences..

  3. The octopus is not from earth as it has alien DNA. 🙂 and yes they can leave the water and crawl about. Something evil and freaky about them.

  4. You have to realize that this means that something is wrong with the environment. And, more than likely, it is caused by mankind. Also, sooner or later, it will be affecting us.

  5. It’s because the sharks are disappearing from over fishing. The Gulf of Mexico is swarming with the red diablo squid already. Those ones take a bite the size of a ping pong ball and are voracious. If all sharks go, the cephalopods will rule the oceans.

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