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Why Did Dozens of Octopuses Crawl Onto a Beach in Wales?

Scientists aren’t sure, but recent storms or burgeoning populations might be to blame

smithsonian.com

The curled octopus, a rust-colored cephalopod common to the British Isles, is an elusive critter that frolics about in deep waters—up to 500 meters deep, in fact. So it was very strange when dozens of curled octopuses were seen emerging from the sea and crawling along a Welsh beach.

As Victoria Ward of the Telegraph reports, more than 20 octopuses were spotted at the New Quay beach in Wales on three consecutive nights. Brett Stones, who runs dolphin-watching trips with the company SeaMôr, witnessed the mysterious occurrence after returning from a day on the water. He tells the BBC that he had “never seen [the octopuses] out of the water like that."

"It was a bit like an end of days scenario," he adds. Though Stones tried to put the octopuses back into the sea, some were later found dead on the shore, according to the Guardian.

It is not unheard of for octopuses to venture out of the water—let us not forget Inky, who broke out of his tank at a New Zealand aquarium, sauntered across the floor and escaped through a drainpipe. But as James Wright, curator at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, tells the Telegraph, curled octopuses are typically “territorial and solitary” creatures, and it is “quite odd” to see so many of them surfacing on the same beach.

“[T]here is something wrong with them I am afraid,” he says. Without physically examining the octopuses, it is hard for scientists to know what might have compelled the creatures to leave their watery habitat and crawl around on land, where they are relatively vulnerable. But experts have put forth a few ideas.

Low-pressure depressions linked to the storms of Ophelia and Brian, which pummeled the UK earlier this month, could be to blame, Wright tells the Telegraph. “It could simply be injuries sustained by the rough weather itself or there could be a sensitivity to a change in atmospheric pressure,” he says.

Another potential culprit is overcrowding. As Sarah Gibbens of National Geographic reports, previous research has shown that overfishing, which reduces the number of large marine predators, has caused octopus populations to burgeon across the globe. “[T]he invertebrates would have to travel farther to find food, and perhaps equally important to an octopus, shelter,” Gibbens writes—and this may in turn have driven the cephalopods onto land.

Whatever the reason, the hapless creatures marched out of the sea. "It sort of brings out this mothering instinct. You just want to save them," Stones tells Gibbens. "It's quite emotional to see them flailing."

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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