When I was a child, we made frequent trips to the nearby aquarium. The first exhibit down one dark hall — a hall with few escapes — was the giant octopus (just how giant it was is today unclear, but at the time, I thought it was HUGE).
Now, this was not a pretty creature (name the octopus that is) and it seemed to be looking out at us, at me, with its wide eyes. I was certain it was quite angry at being cooped up in that little space, and one day was going to escape and…get me.
My parents were a little amused at this fear, but kept their smiles hidden as they reassured me that simply couldn’t happen. Even if it did get out, they told me, which was nearly impossible, it wouldn’t survive outside of water. In the dry environment, it would be immobilized.
Apparently, that isn’t the case at all, although I have no doubt my parents were certain they were telling me the truth. In fact, on one trip, I think they even got aquarium workers to back them up.
As an adult, I’ve heard numerous stories of octopuses escaping from their tanks (most recently Inky of New Zealand, whom, aquarium authorities surmised, escaped out of his tank and down a drain pipe leading to the ocean.) In fact, in an article in “True Activist,” octopus expert Jennifer Mather is quoted from an interview in “Scientific American” as saying, “They are very strong, and it is practically impossible to keep an octopus in a tank unless you are very lucky. Octopuses simply take things apart. I recall reading about someone who had built a robot submarine to putter around in a large aquarium tank. The octopus got a hold of it and took it apart piece by piece.
“There’s a famous story from the Brighton Aquarium in England 100 years ago that an octopus there got out of its tank at night when no one was watching, went to the tank next door and ate one of the lumpfish and went back to his own tank and was sitting there the next morning.”
So not only can they escape, but apparently they’re pretty clever. The Brighton Aquarium lost several more lumpfish before they figured out what was going on.
Aquarium workers acknowledge they need to keep their captive octopuses entertained or they get bored, and who wants a bored octopus? My research revealed many of these captive creatures were injured when they were captured (in a fisherman’s net, perhaps), so some humanity is exhibited in keeping them contained.
But once they are well, it can be argued that holding them in a tank is a compromised existence.
Which brings me back to my feelings about aquariums today. NO WAY am I going to one with an octopus. Another interesting piece of information I learned in my research for this post? Octopuses have fantastic eyesight. I know if I visit an aquarium, the resident octopus will spot me, far back in the crowd, and decide “this is it, now’s the time. I’m busting out of here and that chick is going to get it.”
Don’t even bother trying to convince me otherwise. I’ve already proven I know more than the grown-ups.
Images © geosap — Adobe Stock
Note: While there is a general consensus in the discussions I read that the word “octopus” is of Greek origin, there was some disagreement about the plural. Some said it would be “octopuses,” while others emphatically stated it should be “octopodes.” One man disagreed with all of that, saying the word actually has it origins in Latin, which would, indeed, make the plural “octopi.”