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Octopus sex act is cancelled, again

The Seattle Aquarium’s octopuses aren’t getting lucky this Valentine’s Day. For the second year in a row, the annual octopus mating event, or “blind date,” has been cancelled.

As it turns out, the female octopus, Raspberry, is already fertilized. Aquarium staff made the discovery this morning.

So, it looks like the three hearts of her intended blind date, Pancake, won’t be skipping a beat this time around (yes, three hearts).

Last year, the aquarium couldn’t find a female large enough to match Kong, the 70-pound male that they fished out of Puget Sound. They worried that he might mistake a smaller female for lunch, rather than a mate. The cancellation drew heavy media attention, aided in part by headlines along the lines of “Attention: The public octopus sex act has been cancelled” —  and the jokes pretty much wrote themselves.

Raspberry has been kept in a solitary tank during her stay at the aquarium, so it’s highly likely that she mated in Puget Sound prior to her collection about six weeks ago, according to Seattle Aquarium’s Curator of Fish and Invertebrates Tim Carpenter.

In other words, it doesn’t appear as if Raspberry and Pancake were sneaking off in a forbidden octonary embrace prior to their scheduled mating time, which was supposed to be at noon on Valentine’s Day.

It can be said, though, that Raspberry was mating with other males and embracing the sexual independence common to the giant Pacific octopus, which is the largest species of octopus in the world, during her time in the Sound.

But be wary before you suggest she sport a scarlet ‘A’ on her mantle.

“Females can actually mate with multiple males, and tend to, prior to their laying of eggs,” said Tim Kuniholm, director of public affairs at the Seattle Aquarium.

In fact, a female octopus can store the genetic packets, called “spermatophores,” until she is ready to fertilize her eggs. Carpenter said he can’t say for sure, “but there is a little bit of research indicating that she can actually fertilize her eggs with multiple males’ sperm, if she so chooses.”

In lieu of the blind date, Raspberry will be released back into Puget Sound in an event at noon on Tuesday. The aquarium collects octopuses from the Sound in order to display the elusive creatures to the public. All octopuses are eventually released back to the location from which they were collected as part of the aquarium’s conservation efforts, so Raspberry will simply be released ahead of schedule. Her intended mate, Pancake, is expected to be released on Saturday — perhaps giving him a chance for a weekend date.

Like salmon, octopuses are “terminal breeders,” which means they die shortly following the fertilization. After Raspberry is released, she will go into a process of “senescence” and begin wasting away until her 30,000-plus eggs are released.

The aquarium has been holding the blind date event for a number of years, usually coinciding with its annual Octopus Week. Most of this year’s Octopus Week activities will be held Feb. 18-26, including the livestreaming of the release of other giant Pacific octopuses.

For now, we hopeless romantics can only wish that the tentacle-crossed lovers might have a final embrace after they’ve been returned to their homes in the sound.

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