As It Happens

Why are octopuses fleeing the ocean in Wales?

Dozens of curled octopuses have been spotted crawling out of the water on the Welsh coast in what scientists fear may be a response to recent storms.
This curled octopus was spotted 'walking' away from the ocean in New Quay, Wales. (SeaMor Dolphin Watching Boat Trips/Facebook )

Story transcript

Boat tour guide Brett Stones was coming ashore in New Quay, Wales, on Friday night when he noticed something "glistening" on the water's edge.

"As we got closer it was the obvious sort of shape of an octopus," Stones, who runs SeaMor Dolphin Watching Boat Trips, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"Sometimes it was crawling and then sometimes it was walking."

It was kind of a bit of a comical sight to see all these alien-like creatures just sort of flip-flopping out and about on the sand.-  Brett Stones, boat tour guide 

After ensuring it wasn't injured, Stones and his colleagues returned the creature to the water and went along their way.

"So after we plopped that back into the sea, at the end of the pier, as we were walking back along the beach, there was another one and then another one and then some more," he said.

"It was kind of a bit of a comical sight to see all these alien-like creatures just sort of flip-flopping out and about on the sand."

According to The Telegraph, dozens of curled octopuses have been spotted along the shores in New Quay over the last few days, despite the fact that they are usually extremely solitary and secretive creatures who live 100 metres below the surface of the ocean.

James Wright, curator at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, told The Telegraph he's heard similar accounts of curled octopuses showing up in the intertidal zone — where the tide comes in and out — on the coasts of Wales and North Devon.

"This account of a number on the same beach is quite odd," Wright told The Telegraph. "But them even being found in the intertidal is not common and suggests there is something wrong with them, I am afraid."

He theorized it could be weather-related. 

"As the areas where they are exhibiting this odd behaviour coincides with the two areas hit by the two recent low-pressure depressions and associated storms of Ophelia and Brian, it could be supposed that these have affected them."

"It could simply be injuries sustained by the rough weather itself or there could be a sensitivity to a change in atmospheric pressure."

Steve Simpson, a University of Bristol marine biologist, was also baffled.

"They are fairly vulnerable on land and it's hard to imagine they have found a new food source," he told the newspaper. "They may be aggregating to reproduce, but they do tend to be territorial and solitary."

Stones and his colleagues, meanwhile, have tried to rescue the octopuses — but said they didn't seem too pleased about the intervention. 

"They were quite feisty when you picked them up," he said.