Obscure octopus observations

WWU graduate research sparks development of new technology



Jesse Humbert, a 2022 biology graduate student, conducted his master’s thesis on the behavior of octopus under the advisement of Kirt Onthank, biology professor and director of Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory. As part of their research, they built novel motion-detecting underwater cameras and published their technology in January in Hardware X—an open-source journal used by scientists for finding and publishing equipment used for research. 

Their revelations on octopus patterns, discovered using the cameras, was also published in a scientific journal, titled Integrative and Comparative Biology, in July 2022. “The camera we developed was completely novel,” said Onthank. The cameras were key to conducting this research by tracking the octopuses’ daily patterns around dens at depths of around 60 feet. 

After Humbert and several undergraduates ciphered the footage, they made two big discoveries about this species. Their research revealed that Muusoctopus leioderma are diurnal creatures rather than nocturnal. They also found a symbiotic relationship between the kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus) fish and the octopus. 

Exciting discoveries like this are made possible by collaboration among professors, graduate students, and undergraduates, as well as a willingness to innovate. For example, the School of Engineering often helps the biology department create innovative technology to push their research to the next level. “We have a robust school of engineering that collaborates with marine biologists to develop tools for ocean research and exploration. This is essential for cutting edge marine biology,” said Onthank. 

WWU provides many opportunities for students to become involved in research at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Learn more about our biology program at wallawalla.edu/biology.

Posted on April 25, 2023. 

Photo of octopus
The octopuses species Humbert and other studied is Muusoctopus leioderma.
Photo of scuba diver
This photo features the underwater camera used for observations and research.