Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Aquarium's leggy newcomer settles in


Octopus keeps handler going in 8 directions

BY TERRY FLYNN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

octopus
A 35-pound giant Pacific octopus went on display Monday at the Newport Aquarium.
(Steven M. Herppich photos)
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        NEWPORT — The newest attraction at the Oceanic Adventures Newport Aquarium, a 35-pound female giant Pacific octopus, is keeping a biologist busy teaching her new tricks and occupying her mind.

        According to her primary keeper, aquatic biologist Eileen Flynn, the 4-foot-long octopus, which went on display Monday, “must be challenged. They are extremely intelligent, inquisitive animals and need to have more and more difficult puzzles to solve.”

        The octopus, which has not been named, is already learning to open the lid on a jar containing food, plays with rubber toy fish and sometimes sleeps with a small rubber whale wrapped in its tentacles.

octopus
Biologist Eileen Flynn handles her unnamed friend.
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        “We'll come up with more things for her to learn, because if she isn't challenged in captivity she'll lose interest and eventually could begin to decline,” Ms. Flynn said.

        Native to the cold Pacific Ocean waters from Alaska to northern California, the giant Pacific octopus normally grows to about 16 feet from head to tip of tentacles and weighs about 100 pounds, but can be as large as 30 feet and 600 pounds. It eats shrimp abalone, scallops, clams, fish and even smaller octopods.

        “I worked with one at the National Aquarium in Baltimore that weighed about 2 pounds when it arrived and grew as large as this one in just one year,” Ms. Flynn said. “They absorb about 50 percent of the food they ingest, and they are all muscle.”

        Because the octopus has no skeleton, one the size of the Newport Aquarium's resident could fit through an opening the size of the mouth of a soft drink bottle. As a result, the top of her 1,700-gallon tank must be clamped down tightly to prevent the sneaky critter from climbing out and investigating other nearby tanks.

        Ms. Flynn said this octopus is about 11/2 years old and should grow rapidly to twice its present size within a year if it continues to eat well.

        When Ms. Flynn removes the top of the tank, the octopus immediately moves to the surface and holds her hands while being fed pieces of fish and shrimp.

        “She knows me, because she can smell my skin through the suckers on her tentacles,” Ms. Flynn said. “She can identify other keepers when she touches them.”

        The giant Pacific octopus, which can change color and skin texture to match its surroundings, usually lives only about three years in the wild because they die after breeding, laying and hatching eggs. This octopus should live much longer in its tank, where it will not breed and will not be exposed to predators such as sharks and seals.

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