Published in The Boston Globe on April 14 print
Internet users around the world were agog this week over reports from New Zealand that a stealthy octopus had climbed out of an aquarium tank, slithered down a drain, and wriggled free into open water.
The news emerged just as Boston’s New England Aquarium is preparing to open a new octopus tank Friday that will display two of the clever animals. So could such a daring escape happen here? Officials say something like it already has — though it’s unlikely to recur.
In the 1980s, handlers at the aquarium were mystified by the disappearance of several rare fish that were the subject of biological study. Nobody could figure out where they were going — until a researcher arrived early one day to find an octopus perched over the tank.
The aquarium determined the sneaky cephalopod had been flopping out of its tank, sliding across an aisle, and scaling the other tank to get extra food. When it was done eating, the sly sea creature would make the 3-foot journey home.
“At the time, nobody thought the octopus was capable of that,”aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said.
He said the facility has since been more careful in its containment of intelligent animals.
“If you go to our exhibits now, there is a variety of latches to secure the tank,” he said.
Octopi can learn to unscrew lids, undo fasteners, and open boxes, LaCasse said. Hours of design and testing went into the creation of the new exhibit, which will feature two giant Pacific octopi.
Their environment will be “escape-proof,” LaCasse promised.