With the calmness of the early evening air, the soothing sound of the ocean waves crashing against rocks, Ricky Belanger took a seat in the boat and let out a huge breath as the captain turned to head home.
Another successful release of the Discovery Passage Aquarium’s seasonal resident octopus was in the books.
“It’s a very bittersweet moment,” said Belanger, the Aquarium Curator and Manager of Campbell River’s Discovery Passage Aquarium Society. “But I’d like to call it satisfying. The octopus release is often heralded as the official end of the aquarium season, so what a great way to celebrate it.”
Annual World Octopus Day started in 2006 and celebrates the uniqueness and beauty of this incredible creature. Visually-astounding and coming in many colours, some live in the shallow waters of the sea, while others can be found thousands of meters below the surface. The “chameleons of the sea” are able to change colors to blend with their surroundings as a form of protection against predators.
The releases at the Aquarium started in 2018, and Belanger was especially proud of “Raisin,” this year’s release. The aquarium exhibits an local octopus during the summer season then returns them and the other locally-gathered sea creatures on display back to the ocean at the end of the summer. Removed from her Octopus pen and placed into a three gallon bucket, Raisin was then transported with the other specimens, including rainbow stars, sunflower stars and California sea cucumbers along Quathiaski Cove.
For the actual dive, Raisin was taken home by divers Addison Campbell, who has also provided videography for the footage underwater, Myra Kohler, and Jennifer Lily.
“I could not believe what was going on. It was amazing, very cool,” said Lily, a 33-year-old diving veteran who started diving when she was a teenager. “To be able to give life back to nature.”
Lily admits that there was a little coaxing was generally needed to bring Raisin out to get to where she needed to go.
“She didn’t want to go. We had to tickle her a little bit and then she came out,” Lily said.
After the initial release in 2018, Belanger admitted they did smaller, non-descript releases from the side of the beach during 2020 and 2021, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The first octopus releases were donated by fishermen,” Belanger says. “It’s a practice we’re trying to move away from. If we get one that is damaged or unhealthy, we’re still sworn to the duty and care of that animal. Instead of nursing an animal back to health, it’s better to get an animal that it’s in good condition, that’s suitable for captivity. That way, it’s easier to release a healthy animal back to the water at the end of the season.”
Belanger, a long-time marine enthusiast, is passionate about aquatic life. He’s very happy about the community around him, who assists him in these releases.
“To a certain degree, we’ve had animals in the aquarium for multiple years in a row,” says Belanger. “We release them in a healthy environment they are bound to thrive in.”
An after party celebrating the release of Raisin was held on Saturday afternoon at the aquarium.