Mysterious Walking Octopuses Appear on Welsh Beach

Spooky happenings were afoot last weekend in Wales … or should that be an "arm" — or eight? According to local news reports, bunches of octopuses were seen oozing along the beach on Friday night (Oct. 27).

Local marine tour operators told WalesOnline they saw about 20 of the cephalopods crawling along the sand around 10 p.m. local time Friday, with additional reports of walking octopuses on Thursday night. Video shows the hand-size, pinkish mollusks creeping along the sand.

The behavior is a mystery, according to octopus experts. This area of the United Kingdom has seen large numbers of cephalopods this year, said David Scheel, a marine biologist at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.

"It's possible they are unusually abundant this year," Scheel wrote in an email to Live Science. "Or perhaps sea conditions were atypical — a big storm or an unusually low tide? Really nice crabs just above the low tide line? Too warm or cold? Recent pollution event or enrichment? Recent food die-off? A marathon walk for a compelling cause?" [8 Crazy Facts About Octopuses]

Octopus walk

Octopuses can survive out of water for a good 10 to 15 minutes without damage, as long as they stay damp, said Jennifer Mather, an expert on octopus behavior at the University of Lethbridge in Canada. The octopuses seen in the video are probably a species in the genus Eledone, she said, which is a deep-sea dweller. Very little is known about the behavior of deep-living octopus species, Mather told Live Science.

"The ones we know anything about are really the ones within about 10 meters max [depth]," Mather said. (Ten meters is about 33 feet.)

Some deep-living octopus species come closer to shore to mate, Mather said. It's possible the Eledone seen in the video were in some sort of shallow mating assemblage when bad weather hit, churning up their environment enough to wash them ashore. Winter storm Brian hit the United Kingdom on Oct. 22, bringing strong winds and rough seas to the coast of Wales.

Save the octopuses

Brett Jones, the owner of a local dolphin-watching tour business, told WalesOnline that he and his colleagues had been picking up the stranded octopuses and putting them back in the water. That is probably a lifesaving action, Mather said.

"These guys really don't look dead or almost dead. Their color's normal, their tone is normal," she said. Getting them back into the water quickly probably ensures their survival, she said.

Mather has studied some species of Eledone in a laboratory environment and said they don't display any particularly unusual behavior, though they may be somewhat social — they do tolerate other octopuses in their territory. But very little is known about this group of species in the wild, she said, just as very little is known about the behavior of deep-ocean animals in general.

"We know so little about the sea, and it takes up three-fifths of the planet," Mather said. And climate change may be forever altering habitats before humans even understand them, she said.

"We owe it to the planet to start learning, because there is more than there is up here," she said. "And we don't know anything about it."

Original article on Live Science.  

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.