People have been intrigued by octopuses [Editor's note: Yes, octopuses is the correct plural form. You're welcome to debate in the comments but you would be wrong.) for centuries. The mysterious creature has been the subject of sea lore, as terrifying monsters (The Kraken) of the deep. They enthrall us with their strange physiology: their eight roaming tentacles and their ability to camouflage themselves in their surroundings. But the thing that should entice us most is their incredible intelligence.
Back in 2008, the entire electrical system at the Sea Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany blew out. This happened for three straight days. It was potentially very dangerous to the other animals in the aquarium.
“It was a serious matter because it shorted the electricity supply to the whole aquarium that threatened the lives of the other animals when water pumps ceased to work,” said a spokesperson for the aquarium.
So, the staff decided to spend the night at the aquarium to figure out what was causing the blackouts. On the third night, the staff still didn’t figure out what was causing the power outage. That was, until they turned the lights on in the morning.
They found out that the aquarium’s resident octopus, Otto, was responsible for the blackouts. Otto was climbing up the side of his tank and shooting water at the 2,000-watt spotlight overhead. The staff had previously trained him to shoot water at the aquarium’s visitors. But Otto now used this trick to burn out the light, which staff believed was annoying the cheeky octopus.
"We knew that he was bored as the aquarium is closed for winter, and at two feet, seven inches Otto had discovered he was big enough to swing onto the edge of his tank and shoot out the 2000 Watt spot light above him with a carefully directed jet of water,” the spokesperson said.
The aquarium has remedied the situation since the power outage. But it looks like the sassy octopus still finds ways to cause trouble.
"We've put the light a bit higher now so he shouldn't be able to reach it. But Otto is constantly craving for attention and always comes up with new stunts so we have realized we will have to keep more careful eye on him - and also perhaps give him a few more toys to play with,” said the aquarium’s director, Elfriede Kummer.
The aquarium staff even gave Otto a chess set to play with to keep him occupied. However, Otto quickly got sick of it. “He always adapts to his surroundings, but as soon as a chess board is in there, it’s just black, white, black white. So, that keeps him entertained a while. But then, he was like, no, I don’t want the chess board. And he just threw it out of the aquarium,” Ms. Kummer told NPR.
The aquarium staff caught Otto doing other strange things, possibly out of boredom.
"Once we saw him juggling the hermit crabs in his tank, another time he threw stones against the glass damaging it. And from time to time he completely re-arranges his tank to make it suit his own taste better - much to the distress of his fellow tank inhabitants,” Ms. Kummer said.
As Otto demonstrates, octopuses are extremely intelligent creatures. They are so sentient, that there are laws in several countries that prohibit surgery on an octopus without proper anesthesia. This law usually applies to vertebrates, but octopuses are a major exception. In fact, in the UK, cephalopods are the only invertebrate protected under the Animals Scientific Procedures Act.
If you’ve seen Finding Dory, you’ll remember Ed O’Neill’s performance as Hank the cranky octopus. Hank desperately wanted out of his enclosure and staged a jailbreak. This wasn’t a complete fabrication. In 2016, an octopus did just that at an aquarium in New Zealand.
Inky made headlines after he escaped from his enclosure at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier. “Octopuses are famous escape artists,” said Rob Yarrell, the aquarium’s manager. “ But Inky really tested the waters here. I don’t think he was unhappy with us, or lonely, as octopus are solitary creatures. But he is such a curious boy. He would want to know what’s happening on the outside. That’s just his personality.”
The aquarium staff believe that Inky escaped out of the top of his enclosure in the middle of the night and travelled about four meters across the floor of the aquarium into a drainpipe that led to the sea. The drainpipe was 50 meters long and emptied into Hawke’s Bay.
“The staff and I have been pretty sad,” said Yarrell. “But then, this is Inky, and he’s always been a bit of a surprise octopus.”
While octopus filter water though their gills like fish, they can survive out of water for much longer. This makes Inky’s escape theory more plausible. “They can survive for a good bit,” said marine biology professor Ken Halanych, “Hours? No. But 20 to 30 minutes, I could see it.”