Aurora's wait is over, eggs finally hatching

Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Aurora held tight to her dream.

Even when most any other would-be mother - even one with eight arms - would likely have become discouraged, not Aurora. The aging Giant Pacific octopus at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward embraced her maternal instinct and was rewarded this week. Her eggs finally began hatching.

The first of thousands of eggs have burst out into pearly white, tear-shaped babies with huge eyes and sprouting arms that look like Statue of Liberty foam hats.

"She held on," said SeaLife Center spokesman Jason Wettstein. "Every so often, not at great speed, they've been hatching."

As of Wednesday, there were nine baby octopus in a rearing tank. Every hour, food was being dispensed via an electronic, automatic feeder. Three other tanks with thousands of yet-to-hatch eggs were set up in different locations around the center.

"The octopuses are on a diet of two types of copepods and ground-up krill," said aquarist Ed DeCastro, who noticed the first baby on Sunday.

"Initially we thought maybe it was a fluke," he said. "But it turned out there were more to follow."

The Giant Pacific octopus began her long journey toward motherhood last May when she was introduced to the aging bachelor J-1. To the delight of aquarists, the two hit it off, flashing colors and retreating to a dark corner of the center's "Denizens of the Deep" display.

Aurora laid tens of thousands of eggs in June. Her maternal instinct was strong, despite the fact that her eggs didn't appear to develop and aquarists eventually believed they were sterile.

Day in and day out, she sucked in water through her mantle and sent waves of cleansing water over the eggs. She defended them against hungry sea cucumbers and starfish.

She continued to tend her eggs even after J-1, who had been removed from her tank for crankiness, died of old age in September.

She didn't give up even when aquarists last December - convinced the eggs weren't fertile - began draining her 3,600-gallon tank. As the water went down and she was going down with it, she sprayed her eggs with water, now exposed and drying on a rock.

Sharp-eyed intern Meghan Kokal saved the day. Some eggs were placed in her palm and she gave them a close look, asking about the two red dots. The dots turned out to be developing eyes.

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