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Giant Pacific OctopusWelcome guest blogger Cindy Roberts, staff biologist at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium! Read on for a look at Puget Sound’s underwater wonders (of the eight-legged variety) in honor of the Symphony’s upcoming performance of The Blue Planet Live!, only at Benaroya Hall on July 8 & 9.

Living in the Pacific Northwest can be wonderful, as it provides many diverse experiences for both locals and tourists alike. From hiking and biking to the many festivals and arts activities in the area, there is always something to do. There is one thing, however, that makes Western Washington extra special — the Puget Sound. I consider myself fortunate to be able to live and explore the Puget Sound, as it is home to one of my favorite marine animals: the Giant Pacific Octopus.

Giant Pacific Octopuses are the largest octopus species in the world and are an icon of the Pacific Northwest. Adult males can weigh up to 100 pounds — females average 50 pounds — with an arm span of 14 feet from tip to tip. Octopuses have the largest brains of all invertebrates, and although they may look like slimy aliens from another planet, they are actually beautiful, muscular, intelligent animals. Octopuses are amazing hunters: they use more than 200 suctions cups on each of eight arms to capture crabs, shrimp, clams and even an occasional rockfish. In the wild, the Giant Pacific Octopus keeps busy protecting him or herself from predators, hunting for food and, near the end of its short three-year life span, looking for a mate.

You can experience a Giant Pacific Octopus up close and personal at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. These fascinating creatures are kept in captivity for only a few months so that biologists can learn more about them, and so the public can see them in the flesh. The octopuses are then released back into the wild with the cooperation of local wildlife agencies so they can finish out their lives in the beautiful Puget Sound.

To keep octopuses mentally stimulated while in captivity, the aquarists provide enrichment. Food puzzles, lidded jars and even children’s toys help bring out the octopus’s natural problem-solving behaviors, and keep it busy — a good thing, because If an octopus is bored, it gets into trouble. There are many stories of mischievous octopuses escaping from their tanks! Octopuses have been known to work their way through mazes, improving their time after each round. Even more unbelievable: octopuses can even paint and create artistic masterpieces (of course, “masterpiece” lies in the eye of the beholder).

With their fascinating looks and often underestimated intelligence, Giant Pacific Octopuses are not only an important part of our ecosystem; they are also an inspiration to us as we work to protect our oceans and our Earth.

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You’ll be swimmin’ with the fishes (in a good way) at Seattle Symphony’s presentation of The Blue Planet Live!, a big-screen, underwater adventure with live orchestra accompaniment. Featuring a score by renowned film and television composer George Fenton — who will lead the Orchestra in two performances, July 8 & 9The Blue Planet Live! presents a natural history of the world’s oceans edited for the big screen.

Should be an experience you won’t soon forget. Says Fenton:

The boundaries between cinema and television are becoming progressively blurred. Most films are made with the television in mind, while at the same time, more and more people are able to enjoy television on high-quality screens and with stereo sound to rival the cinema. The true difference now lies in where and with whom you watch. This show is also about being part of a theatrical experience, which involves sharing these incredible images of incredible creatures in a way that we can’t in front of the television. The makers of The Blue Planet are only too aware that the oceans and their inhabitants are increasingly under threat. Attempting to understand and protect them is perhaps the ultimate aim behind these remarkable films.

Want to bone up on your undersea knowledge pre-screening? Read on for some seaworthy suggestions.

Take a trip to a Puget Sound–area beach (from Des Moines’ Redondo Beach to North Seattle’s Carkeek Park) and participate in Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist program [PDF]. Learn what seastars eat, why seaweed is slimy, and what you can do to help protect Puget Sound’s species-rich shores.

Looking for some saltwater fun this weekend? Check out Point Defiance Zoo & Acquarium’s Beluga Whale Play Day [PDF], from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. Can’t make it this weekend? Visit the Zoo & Aquarium any time for all kinds of underwater enterprises.

Or, simply stay at home with a few deep-sea flicks. Our picks:

  • Finding Nemo. Little fish, big ocean, incredible journey.
  • Whale Rider. A father-daughter tale from New Zealand.
  • The Hunt for Red October. Tom Clancy’s political thriller of a Soviet sub captain’s defection tricked out for the silver screen.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Kirk Douglas vs. a giant squid. Need we say more?
  • The Abyss. Freaky underwater phenomena. Plus a funky submarine!
  • Free Willy. The story of a boy and his orca.
  • Jaws. “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”
  • The Yellow Submarine. The Beatles (à la animation) take on the Blue Meanies with pop songs and psychedelia.

Photo courtesy BBC Worldwide.