There’s no public cafeteria at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, but lunch service still draws a big crowd. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, visitors gather to watch the center’s educators feed the resident Giant Pacific Octopus.

The maitre’d is a museum assistant like Kathryn Hawes, who roams the crowd with preserved examples of octopus eggs and other body parts. She’ll answer questions, tell stories and offer facts about this eight-legged creature of the briny deep. Then, with help from one of the HMSC’s volunteers, Hawes will roll the screened cover off the front two feet of the 12-foot square tank, and drop a live Dungeness crab into the water.

That’s the moment, naturally, when feeding time gets really interesting. From a corner of the tank, red arms curl and unfurl as they propel the bulbous mantle toward the crab. They don’t so much grab the food as surround it, sucking it toward the hub of all those curling arms: the sharp beak, which delivers a dose of neurotoxin to the hapless meal.

Sometimes, if the octopus opens up at just the right angle, HMSC visitors can see the beak as it bites the crab.

While all eyes are drawn to the beak, the tentacles are making their move. One skinny little tip comes over the tank’s edge, and then another — searching, anchoring, gaining suckerholds on the glass. Clearly, lunchtime is a window of opportunity, but Hawes is ready. She lightly detaches each arm and replaces the cover, securing it tightly with industrial-strength Velcro.

“It’s like trying to keep Houdini — they love to escape,” said HMSC’s marine educator Bill Hanshumaker. “They have no bones in their body, so they are able to slip through the smallest of holes. In the past, they escaped on a regular basis, and it was sometimes lethal to them if we didn’t find them soon enough. But the one thing they haven’t figured out yet is Velcro.”

Ready to meet the resident giant Pacific octopus at the Hatfield Marine Science Center? Here’s how:

• The center’s cephalopod is fed every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 1 p.m. Marine educators discuss the creature’s anatomy and behavior, and show preserved octopus eggs, a beak and more. Octopus wranglers (aka volunteers) are also on hand to answer questions. Assemble at the tank, located near the visitor’s center, to participate in this free program.
• A special Octopus Day is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Octivities will include a children’s coloring contest with prizes, an octopus feeding at 1 p.m., and the comparative necropsy of two squid and an octopus. Related films will be shown throughout the center’s day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The HMSC, on Marine Science Drive in the South Beach area of Newport, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. For details, call the center at 541-867-0100.

But wait, there’s more. Read more about the HMSC octopus mascot, head to http://www.oregoncoasttoday.com/octopusday.html

Niki Price is the editor and co-owner of Oregon Coast Today, a weekly newspaper covering arts, entertainment and the environment on the central Oregon coast. She roams the shores from Yachats north to Rockaway, covering everything from pelican proliferation to proffered profiteroles, with two underage editorial assistants often in tow. To follow them, and the TODAY, check out their Twitter feed and Facebook fan site.

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