Why Did So Many Octopuses Walk Onto a Wales Beach?

Were they stranded? Looking for food? Disoriented? It’s not clear, but recently people walking the beaches of New Quay, Ceredigion, Wales, reported seeing “scores of octopuses” there, washed up from the Irish Sea.

Onlookers reported a disconcerting sight. On a single evening, more than 20 curled octopuses were “walking on the tips of their legs” along the sandy beach, while others were found dead.

Here’s what it looked like:

The octopus is a cephalopod — a type of highly advanced tentacled mollusk. It is considered to be most intelligent of all invertebrates. Scientists now believe octopuses are sentient animals.

They use tools, can learn new things with little trouble, and apparently have individual personalities. The curled octopus preys on crustaceans and fish, sometimes even crawling into lobster and crab pots to consume the bait or the catch trapped there.

What Made Them Come Ashore?

Experts are at a loss to explain why so many of these normally solitary creatures ended up out of the water and walking along the beach. The curled octopus lives along the British coastline from the shoreline down to the rocky substrate. It’s usually found 100 meters down, hiding among the rocks, rather than on a beach.

A group of tourists on a dolphin watching expedition in Ceredigion were the first to realize what was going on. The found “a blob” moving along the sand about 30 feet inland from the water. As they approached, it became clear they were looking at a live octopus.

As the group moved along the beach, they found 20 to 30 more of them. Trying to do a good deed, the group took plastic containers and scooped up the octopuses, placing them back in the water.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

“Every one we found was quite alive,” Brett Stones of SeaMor Dolphin Watching Boat Trips told National Geographic. “Their tentacles were coming around and grabbing hold [of our hands], but in the morning, we found more dead. No bites or damage.”

Theories abound as to what was going on here:

  • Stranding – Many reports assert these octopuses stranded themselves on the beach. That, however, may not be true because the octopus doesn’t navigate in the same way other marine animals that suffer from strandings do.
  • Senescence – The end of October is just after breeding season, so the octopuses may well be in the middle of the usual post-breeding “senescence” die-off. Cephalopods breed only once and then perish. Usually they deteriorate physically and mentally as this happens. While this isn’t a bad theory, the surprisingly good condition of the octopuses found on shore would seem to indicate this isn’t the cause.
  • Population ExplosionHumankind is overfishing the species that naturally prey on this breed of octopus. Fewer predators means octopus overpopulation, which in turn means the hunt for food is much more difficult. This could be what’s driving them closer to shore.
  • Unusual Bad Weather – Could it be the recent bashing the seas near the United Kingdom took? Hurricane Ophelia and Storm Brian walloped the area with unusual force. High tide also occurred around the time the octopuses walked from the sea. Was it just a disorienting storm surge?

“They are fairly vulnerable on land and it’s hard to imagine they have found a new food source,” Dr. Steve Simpson, a lecturer in marine biologist at the University of Bristol, told The Telegraph. “They may be aggregating to reproduce but they do tend to be territorial and solitary.”

On its Facebook page, SeaMor posted this on November 1st:

[T]he general consensus on this occurrence is that after spawning, these octopus will die. Perhaps a combination of getting churned around in the washing machine like waters that we’ve had after hurricane Ophelia and storm Brian, and the bright street lights of the terraces in New Quay, the animals are getting disorientated and coming out of the water, and crawling up the beach.

They will most certainly die if they stay out of the water for too long, but we still don’t know if putting them back into deeper water is doing the right thing, but watching them suffocate would be heartbreaking so that is what we’ve continued to do, until some experts tell us otherwise.

Are Humans to Blame?

How much of this phenomenon can be attributed to humans? It depends on the reason for what’s happened. If the stormy hurricane season caused this odd behavior, and if we can point to climate change as being partly to blame for that rough weather, then perhaps humans did play a part here.

Similarly, if our overfishing of this octopus’s natural predators caused a population boom that’s now correcting itself, again this phenomenon may be partly our fault. We may never know for sure. A necropsy of one of the dead bodies might provide clues, but that hasn’t happened yet.

One thing’s for sure – octopuses can’t survive out of the water. If beachwalkers can help those little octopuses find their way back into the water, perhaps they won’t die. If people will do at least that much, they could be helping the little fellows survive.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

87 comments

Ann B
Ann B19 days ago

sad article - toxins - pollution- climate change - you can come up with many reasons 99% man made

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Mia G
Mia Gabout a month ago

Interesting article. Thanks.

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Kimberly Wallace
Kimberly Wallaceabout a month ago

TY

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Melanie St. Germaine
Melanie St. Germaineabout a month ago

I hope they were helped back into the water.

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Christina M
Christina Mabout a month ago

this is very odd tyfs
but of course they are sentient and all animals have individual personalities. the way this was stated was sort of... odd.

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SHAYNA C
SHAYNA Cabout a month ago

thank you for this news. seeming there were so many of them, I think the storm is the reason they came on shore. I think they're hungry, too.

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Lenore K
Lenore Kabout a month ago

ok

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Renee M
Renee Mabout a month ago

What an odd occurrence...

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Bill E
Bill Eagleabout a month ago

Strange to see something like this happen. One wonders why these creatures came ashore?

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Steven W
Steven Wabout a month ago

Thank you.

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