So I'm still working on this story, there's a bunch more written that I haven't posted because it's not chronological, but it'll appear eventually. As will the D9 sequel and probably some silly-fluffy stuff, just for fun.
Meanwhile, here is a slightly-spoilery treatise on the octopus species in this universe.
A brief guide to the Giant Intelligent Octopus (proposed: Enteroctopus sapiens)
L. Albrecht(1), E. McAuley (1), W. Rothenberg (2), B. Latier (2)
1. Division of Biology and Biochemistry, Pacific Institute of Technology
2. Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Pacific Institute of Technology
The Giant Intelligent Octopus (GIO) is a large, social octopus species, hypothesized to have high levels of intelligence as demonstrated by coordinated hunting and possible language abilities. Armspan may reach 10m in diameter, with weights up to 150 kg, with 50-100 kg being typical. Females show ability to generate electromagnetic “force fields” which can stun predators and prey. We hypothesize that this ability evolved as a means of protecting eggs, and was later adapted for use in hunting. Groups have been observed of between five and twenty individuals. These groups may have initially formed as females gathered to lay eggs, then share care-taking duties in order to reduce female mortality after hatching. Later these groups began staying together beyond breeding and hatching, learning to hunt together and developing means of communication.
Hatched eggs drift, floating with near-surface plankton, until age 10-15 weeks before settling onto the ocean floor. There they roam as individuals until they encounter a group (usually around age 6 months) and remain, learning communication and group hunting techniques. Males tend to be more solitary, drifting in and out of groups to mate, while females in most cases remain with their original group. Forcefield formation is limited to females, and appears to be a taught skill, passed from older to younger females.
Breeding generally occurs twice in the life of a female: once at reaching physical maturity, near 5 years of age, and again approximately 5 years later. This second breeding is usually followed by senescence and death of the older female, just after hatching. Females in their second breeding generally do not leave the den, feeding sporadically on prey brought to them by younger females.
Groups consist of approximately five to thirty animals maintaining dens in a single home area. Young hatchlings join groups seemingly at random, by finding or creating a den near an existing group. They learn signaling behavior by observing the other group members, and once this is sufficiently developed, they may be allowed to join hunting groups. Membership in these groups is not fixed, although some groups are more stable than others.
Within the larger group, GIOs form hunting packs, which generally consist of 3-6 animals who herd prey and surround it before killing it. Normally, prey is consumed by the pack immediately following the catch. However, when eggs are being tended, hunting packs will save a portion of their kill for females guarding and caring for eggs. When not engaged in hunting or egg-caring, animals are solitary, retreating to individual dens, although female-female and female-male-female groups have been observed to share large dens on occasion.
Groups tend to avoid each other, with exceptions for mating. Occasional movement of individuals does seem to occur, especially in the case of young females (prior to first breeding) who may join another group for a period of several months. This may be repeated several times before the female returns to her initial group.
While octopus skin color and texture is notoriously changeable, individuals of the GIO are identifiable by distinctive markings around the eyes. Individuals seem able to recognize each other, and specifically to recognize strangers introduced to the group. Their coordinated hunting strategies, which allow them to bring down all but the largest sharks, seem to depend on signaling among individuals, through changes in skin color and pattern as well as seemingly standardized arm movements. While it is not clear whether this signaling can properly be termed “language,” it appears to be highly complex, and instances have been observed of its use in non-pragmatic situations, e.g. among individuals at rest.
“Exploration” behavior has also been observed, wherein a hunting pack will leave the home area without searching for food. These packs have been observed traveling up to 100 km from their home areas over periods of several weeks. It is generally these “exploratory packs” who appear on land, where their unusually tough skin allows them to remain out of water for up to a few hours. Packs have been observed carrying items back to their home area from both land and sea exploration trips: while food found is generally consumed “on-site,” tokens, including interesting rocks or shells (and in one memorable instance a variety of items taken from a hardware store) may be brought back and displayed for other members of the home group. This may be group bonding behavior or an effort to share knowledge acquired on exploratory trips with other members of the group. Tokens are usually discarded after examination, though some groups maintain caches of unusual items in an unused den.
Conflict with humans:
Several GIO groups have recently come into conflict with humans as they exploit their exceptional hunting skills and ability to survive on land to raid human settlements. Because of the forcefields these animals generate, they cannot be approached. They are also difficult to kill at range, with the only effective “kill shot” being directly between the eyes, an area of about 6 cm, or extreme damage to the mantle area. This is made more difficult by the tendency of the mantle to flatten on land, presenting a difficult target for ground-based troops, while their relatively small size and the need for extreme accuracy precludes air assault except in deserted areas where wholesale destruction of the area is accepted. Octopuses have been observed both eating humans and carrying them back to the home area, where they are examined carefully by the group before generally being eaten. Several of the groups observed have maintained collections of human artifacts including body parts and bones as well as other scavenged material from exploratory visits on land.
While the Giant Intelligent Octopus has primarily been viewed as a threat, we suggest that in fact near-shore populations should be considered as opportunities to study an intelligence quite alien to our own. While security for human populations must remain a priority, there may be non-fatal ways of discouraging GIO hunting and exploration packs from entering areas with human settlements. These should be explored before resorting to the planned extinction of a species only recently discovered.
Also, a hilarious (and apparently accurate) representation of our knowledge of octopus neurology: