Sid took some video of Ursula’s release last Friday.  You can see it here.  Thanks, Sid!  You’ll notice that Jordan and Cory take care not to turn their backs to the ocean, but the ocean manages to dump a gallon or so of water on Jordan’s back anyway.

We release our octopuses from Yaquina Bay’s South Jetty, which is just down the road from HMSC.  We try to release at high tide, when the octopus has more places to hide and a nice current if he or she wants to swim farther out to sea.

You can see our new external Octocam housing from the overhead “Outside Looking In” cam on the Octocam page.  Look at the right side of the tank.  The new camera is the small grey object sitting on the base of the tank.  Tony built the housing to protect the camera from bumps and to block out the glare, but it also makes a nice aesthetic fit.

The new octopus—Case #11-42, nicknamed “Pearl” pending a formal name—can still be seen on the quarantine cam until she goes out front.


Have you seen the quarantine Octocam?

Here’s an explanation from the Octocam main page:

“Since the main tank Octocam has been out of commission for replacement with a more sophisticated model,  we’ve taken the opportunity to aim a small Webcam at the quarantine tank… The new octopus is active and curious, and there’s a good chance you’ll see her and watch her interact with our animal husbandry staff if you check in when she’s awake[.]”


If you look carefully at the above photo, you can see Ursula sulking in the background. When I put my hand into the tank to check the new camera’s frame rate and motion blur, she turned a sort of red-on-white paisley—an unfamiliar pattern that I interpreted as a statement of disapproval inexpressible in any vertebrate language.

Our improvised test housing was a wooden box of paper towels from the touch pool, with the camera fixed in place by a wad of towels and cloth diapers. For further structural support, we rested the camera on a jar of formalin-preserved octopus eggs inside the box. The final installation will have a rather more stable and elegant housing. Prototyping is a fantastically organic and immediate process.

We’ve been struggling with this potential replacement Octocam for the past week. This was a neat, compact security camera that strongly resembled HAL from 2001. We took it into the Visitor Center, plugged it in, typed in the IP address, and…

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do that.”

We got nothing. We tried a different Ethernet cable. We tried using another port. We tried reconfiguring the network. We tried installing new drivers. After several frustrating days of experimentation, I unplugged the AC adapter to see if one more power cycle would end our troubles. Before I could plug the cord back in, Mark stopped me. The network light was blinking! The camera was happily negotiating a connection with the server on Ethernet power alone.

Apparently, the AC adapter was turning off the Ethernet power, disabling the Ethernet connection in the process. Plugging the camera in caused it to not work. Perhaps that most insulting of tech support questions (“Is your device plugged in?”) doesn’t have as obvious a correct answer as it seems.

Once the camera started feeding to the network, we discovered a different problem: the frame rate just wasn’t high enough for our standards. This model would make a fantastic security camera, but it made a so-so Octocam. As much as we dislike prolonging our time without a tank-level Octocam, we can’t justify trading one problem for another.

We’ll have another model in soon, and hopefully this one will give us what we’ve all been waiting for.


The inflatable basking shark exhibits atypical feeding behavior.

Today was Homeschool Day in the Visitor Center.  This event gives our education staff an opportunity to work with children and families from a wide variety of learning backgrounds.  It’s also a lot of fun.  This time around, visitors were greeted by a life-size, inflatable basking shark.  As busy as it was, this Homeschool Day went smoother than the last, which was interrupted by a tsunami evacuation.

The new and improved Octocam is almost here!  We’ve been struggling with our underwater octopus webcam for some time, mostly due to the effects of seawater exposure.  We’re going ahead with our plan to install a camera outside the tank, and we’ve already ordered the camera.  That should mean just a couple of weeks until the Octocam is better than ever.

When the previous Octocam was in place, Ursula liked to sleep nestled between the tank wall and the back of the camera.  She held the flexible hose containing the camera’s network and power cables against her forehead like a teddy bear—sometimes pulling the camera slightly out of position in the process.  This was great for visitors, but not so great for our viewers at home.  The new camera will have a pan-tilt-zoom function, so we should be able to see Ursula in some out-of-the-way places.  Stay tuned!

We received a very informative site evaluation from a surveillance camera expert today. Among other things, we learned that we don’t need pan-tilt-zoom functionality for most of our applications. With some clever placement, our exhibit space may not be as difficult to capture as we previously thought.

One problem—from the perspective of face detection and recognition—is the fact that many exhibits are along the walls of the Visitor Center. This is a common feature of many museums, but it means that simply throwing a camera into a convenient corner might be ineffective unless we acquire software to recognize back-of-head expressions. Our other exhibits, such as the touch pool and large display tanks, could block our view of visitors from several angles. These inherent problems can be circumvented with careful camera placement and a front-door camera to register each visitor upon entry. It certainly helps to bring in the professionals for this sort of thing.

Our Octocam – the underwater web cam in our Giant Pacific Octopus tank – has gone through various iterations as they serially succumb to seawater exposure. Our current camera is not adequate in image or tank stability. We spent some time today experimenting with a new camera mounted outside the tank, and it actually works just as well as a submersible camera. Naturally, an external camera would also eliminate concerns about maintenance, housing integrity, running electrical and ethernet cables underwater and the fact that metal is toxic to octopuses should a waterproof component fail. The camera will still be exposed to occasional bumping and climbing, albeit by creatures of a different phylum.