Posted by: underseaencounters | March 3, 2009

Those Clever Octopuses

I was amused to read the other day about the octopus that flooded the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in an attempt to escape (or maybe because octopus was bored and just felt like doing it). While researching and writing Octopuses and Squids, I learned that octopuses are pretty smart (relatively speaking). Their relatives, mollusks like clams and oysters, aren’t known to be the brightest bulbs in the ocean. But octopuses are inquisitive and like to explore. They can figure out how to twist open a jar to get a tasty lobster inside. So it didn’t surprise the staff at the Santa Monica aquarium that “Flo” (newly christened) had figured out how to disassemble the recycling system’s valve, flooding the aquarium with seawater.

A few years back, I enjoyed reading The Octopus and the Orangutan: New Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity by Eugene Linden, which has some amazing octopus stories. As the author points out, octopuses are the only mollusks in public aquariums that are given names because some have distinct personalities. When they are kept in aquariums, octopuses need “enrichment” or they get bored, and they have been known to play with objects.

All those movies, however, about evil giant octopuses strangling sea captains are myths. As one of the only mollusks in the sea without a shell, octopuses are pretty vulnerable. They are a nice boneless steak for many predators. Octopuses would rather escape into their dens where they are safe than attack someone.




  1. I used to work at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and one day I had the privilege of feeding the resident Pacific giant octopus. As soon as I looked into its eye, I knew I was dealing with an intelligent being. I have been a huge fan ever since. Thanks for the post.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I’ve always wanted to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and hope to get there someday.

    I find it fascinating that octopus eyes are similar to human eyes, despite the fact that we aren’t exactly closely related to them…(our common ancestor was some kind of primitive ocean creature millions of years ago with a simple photoreceptive spot for an eye). It’s an amazing example of convergent evolution.

  3. Something funny about octopus boredom.

  4. I guess an animal needs a certain amount of intelligence to feel bored. I think my (late) hermit crab got bored on occasion (always escaping from its crabarium etc)….but I don’t think any researchers have studied “hermit crab intelligence” yet!

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