Aussie team creates octopus 'survival guide' as dinner plate delicacy grows in popularity

More than 400,000 tonnes of octopus are eaten each year. Understanding how they age could be important to ensuring their survival into the future.

Octopus are fascinating – they have three hearts, blue blood and die soon after procreating. But despite the world’s growing interest in the creatures, researchers have worried knowledge about how to determine their age could be lost.

To combat the problem, a team of Aussie scientists have published a "survival guide" to estimating an octopus’s age. The step-by-step approach was collected after it was revealed global octopus take has doubled over the last 40 years and key fisheries were in decline. Understanding how fast octopus grow and what age they mature, prevents them being harvested before they can breed, and helps ensure they are sustainably managed.

Dr Zoe Doubleday told Yahoo News there’s only “a handful of people worldwide” who know the practical steps involved to age an octopus. “People move in and out of research as it’s quite a tenuous, uncertain job to have. A lot of the information is just held in people’s heads or if it is written down it’s sometimes just in reports which aren’t always accessible or discoverable,” she said.

Background - a purple octopus with its suckers towards the camera. Inset - a page from the guide.
A new guide has been published to help researchers age octopus. Source: Getty/Marine and Freshwater Research Journal

How do you age an octopus?

The research was led by two early career researchers at University of South Australia and took over a year to compile, review and publish. Other papers about the process are mostly brief and unlike the new guide includes graphic images or diagrams about how to complete the process which are not for the faint of heart.

To age an octopus, the animal needs to be sliced apart so the growth rings can be counted in its beak and stylet — just like with the trunk of a tree. But there are two critical details which make the process more difficult with octopuses:

  1. Octopus growth rings represent days instead of years.

  2. Every species needs a customised counting method.

How many octopus are taken from the wild?

Annually, an estimated 400,000 tonnes of octopus are taken from nine key fisheries and this number is expected to increase. A Spanish team is working to build an octopus farm which it believes will take pressure off wild stocks, but the project is controversial as critics are concerned captivity will result in welfare issues for the highly intelligent, often solitary creatures.

“By publishing this guide and making the knowledge accessible to anyone, we can help keep fisheries sustainable and ensure this incredible animal continues to survive and thrive,” Dr Doubleday announced after the paper was published in Marine and Freshwater Research Journal.

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