01 March 2009

Octopus floods aquarium in escape bid

An octopus disassembled a valve and released gallons of seawater into nearby exhibits and offices at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California.

To thwart future getaway attempts, aquarium staffers have rigged her tank with clamps and tape. But there "isn't an awful lot [that will] stop them."

A smart animal that has the lowly clam for a cousin already "flies in the face of conventional wisdom of where you look for intelligence. It's enjoyable to think that nature doesn't always follow our rules [when] it decides to create an intelligent being."

Octopus floods Santa Monica Pier Aquarium
The mollusk diassembles a valve at the top of her tank, flooding the place with some 200 gallons of seawater.
Bob Pool, LA Times 27 Feb 09;
It's not surprising that with eight arms and inquisitive nature, the two-spotted octopus is pretty handy around its tank at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

Still, those reporting for work Thursday at the popular beachfront attraction were caught by surprise when they were greeted by water lapping around the kelp forest display, the shark and ray tank and the rocky reef exhibit.

The guest of honor in the aquarium's Kids' Corner octopus tank had swum to the top of the enclosure and disassembled the recycling system's valve, flooding the place with some 200 gallons of seawater.

"It had grabbed the tube that pulls out the water and caused it to spray outside the tank," said aquarium education specialist Nick Fash. Judging by the size of the flood, Fash estimated that the water flowed for about 10 hours before the first staff member, Aaron Kind, showed up for work.

Kind issued an all-hands-on-deck call to summon co-workers to the pier with mops, water vacuums and fans. Even though the aquarium is built over the beach, it has no floor drain.

The tiny octopus, which is about the size of a human forearm when its appendages are extended, floated lazily in the water that remained in its tank.

It watched intently through glass walls and portholes as workers struggled to dry the place out in time for the day's first busload of schoolchildren to arrive on a 9:30 a.m. field trip.

Randi Parent, the aquarium's community outreach coordinator, said the only significant damage was to newly installed ecologically sensitive flooring in several offices. It consists of linseed-and-cork tiles that soaked up the seawater and squished beneath workers' feet the rest of the day.

The incident was reminiscent of a 1994 incident at San Pedro's Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in which an octopus named Octavia pulled a plastic pipe loose.

That giant Pacific octopus died when all of the water in her tank drained out.

Since octopuses are considered by many to be the most intelligent invertebrate -- and to have good memories -- Fash said he jury-rigged his octopus tank piping with clamps and tape in hopes of thwarting any further mischief by its occupant. "She would need tools," he said of his octopus, which until now had no name.

"Some people are suggesting we call her 'Flo,' " he said.


Curious Octopus Floods Aquarium
Christine Dell'Amore, National Geographic News 27 Feb 09;
For one dexterous octopus, an attempt at a great escape turned into a great flood Thursday at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California.

The female California two-spotted octopus swam to the top of her tank, disassembled a valve with her powerful arm, and released at least 200 gallons (757 liters) of seawater into nearby exhibits and offices.

The foot-long (0.3-meter) creature remained in her tank and survived her ordeal. But the aquarium's brand-new floors weren't so lucky.

Such high jinks are typical of the invertebrates' still unexplained smarts, experts say.

"Octopuses have a wonderful combination of intelligence, tremendous manipulative ability, curiosity, and strength," said Jennifer Mather, a psychology professor at Canada's University of Lethbridge who has studied cognition in octopuses.

"So the result is that everybody who has ever kept octopuses has a string of stories about how octopuses can go where they want in aquariums."

Unbelievably Brainy?

Many octopuses show behavior that suggests curiosity, consciousness, and even a sense of humor, said Eugene Linden, author of the 2002 book The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity.

In one instance, an octopus given a slightly spoiled shrimp stuffed it down the drain while maintaining eye contact with its keeper, Linden said.

Wild octopuses have also been found to maintain "homes" and can remember where they've been in their neighborhood, pointing to a sort of self-awareness, Lethbridge's Mather said.

But it's hard to directly prove that octopuses are intelligent.

A smart animal that has the lowly clam for a cousin already "flies in the face of conventional wisdom of where you look for intelligence," Linden said.

Also, many scientists also believe that intelligent beings are social, learn from others, and need a long lifespan to accrue brainpower.

Octopuses live only about a year and are solitary animals.

"It's enjoyable to think that nature doesn't always follow our rules [when] it decides to create an intelligent being," Linden said.

Fast Decisions

The University of Lethbridge's Mather suggests octopuses may have evolved braininess to cope with a highly complex environment—usually coral reefs—where they must make lightning-fast, life-or-death decisions.

For example, the animals are extremely flexible, able to fit their boneless bodies through tiny cracks. Some species can change color in a thirtieth of a second.

As for the crafty cephalopod in Santa Monica, aquarium staffers have rigged her tank with clamps and tape to thwart future getaways, the Los Angeles Times reported.

But, as Mather pointed out, there "isn't an awful lot [that will] stop them."

No comments:

Post a Comment

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails