A Better Bubbler

How do you incubate cuttlefish eggs behind the scenes in preparation for our forthcoming “Tentacles” special exhibition? You could, at a cost of hundreds of dollars, buy commercial incubators. But that would be too easy. Plus, Aquarist Bret Grasse figured he could create something just as good as the store-bought jobs.

For $2.50 and “a day in the life of one volunteer,” he makes a better bubbler out of soda bottles, plastic tubing and silicone glue. It looks like mad science, but it works. To date, he’s produced hundreds of baby cuttlefish for exhibit using the system.

The First Step: Drink the Soda

Bret and his husbandry colleagues have been working on this fabulous fizzer for about four years. The challenge is to “get the greatest number of healthy hatchlings” from a given clutch. He could let nature do its job, by having the cuttlefish mom rear the little ones. But ironically, this doesn’t always achieve the best outcome, says Bret. The mom sometimes forgets where she left the clutches, or neglects them. Plus, removing the eggs and raising them separately allows mom to focus on what she does best: laying  more eggs.

The first step in making the world’s best egg bubbler is the easiest: drink the soda. That done, Bret cuts the bottle in half, and affixes a small screen between the two pieces. The bottom end, where the cap used to be, also has a screen. Then the whole thing is submerged. Next, a tube injects air into the top half of the bubbler, drawing water oh-so-gently up through the whole device, and aerating the eggs with the perfect fizziness—not too much, not too little.

A Cuttlefish the Size of a Pea

While the cuttlefish eggs do their dance in the bubbler, Bret watches and waits. Eventually, the faintest trace of a baby cuttlefish appears in the egg, and an eyespot. When they finally hatch, they’re the size of a pea. The whole thing takes only a few weeks. The baby cuttlefish can then go on exhibit, where they  reach their  three-inch full grown size in about three months.

So far, the bubblers have been used for pharaoh, flamboyant and dwarf cuttlefish, but more species are being considered as we get closer to the launch of the new exhibit April 12.

“We’re so fortunate to have the opportunity to experiment with these techniques,” says Bret. “It not only helps us produce animals for exhibit, but it plays into our conservation mission, by reducing pressure on wild stocks.

“It’s a dream come true for me, Chris Payne and Alicia Bitondo,” says Bret. “We couldn’t be happier to work with these animals and do this kind of troubleshooting.”

Plus, the soda is free.

Learn more about our forthcoming special exhibition, “Tentacles”.

—Geoff Drake


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About me

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, perched on the edge of a world-famous coastline, is your window to the wonders of the ocean. It’s located on historic Cannery Row in Monterey and is open daily except Christmas Day.

For more information about our animals and exhibits, and to view our live web cams, please visit www.montereybayaquarium.org.

Hours of operation vary by season. Daily schedules and tickets are available on our website or by calling
(831) 648-4800.