Octopus Houdini: Inky’s Impossible Escape from a New Zealand Aquarium

Inky the octopus broke free from New Zealand National Aquarium by removing the lid of his tank, crawling across the floor, squeezing himself into a narrow pipe, and escaping into the ocean.

Inky the octopus while he was still at the National Aquarium in New Zealand. Image credit: National Aquarium of New Zealand

Staff at the aquarium believe that Inky, a male common New Zealand octopus, escaped its enclosure when the lid was left ajar and headed to freedom down a pipe leading to the sea.

Rob Yarrell, national manager of the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier, said: “Octopuses are famous escape artists.

“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.”

When Inky’s disappearance was discovered, Yarrell and his team were able to figure out his escape route by following the wet trail he left behind. Apparently, Inky had managed to move the lid of his enclosure, slid three or four metres across the aquarium floor and then, sensing freedom was close, into a 50-meter-long (165 ft) drainpipe leading directly into the sea.

An annotated photo series showing how Inky escaped from his tank and into the sea through a drainpipe. Photo: National Aquarium, New Zealand

“When we came in the next morning and his tank was empty, I was really surprised,” said Yarrell, who added they had not launched a search for Inky.

“The staff and I have been pretty sad. But then, this is Inky, and he’s always been a bit of a surprise octopus.”

Reiss Jenkinson, an exhibits keeper at the National Aquarium, said he was absolutely positive that Inky was not “taken” or “stolen”.

“I understand the nature of octopus behaviour very well,” he said. “I have seen octopus on boats slip through bilge pumps. And the security here is too tight for anyone to take Inky, and why would they?”

And indeed, check out this octopus escaping from a boat through an impossible opening. Magic.

The reason why octopuses are able to fit into extremely small spaces is that they have no bones. They are also known to be extremely intelligent and capable of using tools. And Inky was an “unusually intelligent” octopus, according to Yarrell.

“None of this is surprising or atypical of octopus behavior,” James Wood, a marine biologist, said of Inky’s successful breakout. “Octopuses are amazing animals, they’re very intelligent.”

Wood has known octopuses that have broken out of sealed observation containers and closed aquariums. He said an octopus in Bermuda escaped multiple times to eat the inhabitants of nearby aquariums.

Another octopus, Ozymandias, is said to have broken the world record for opening a jar before being released into the ocean.

Inky was brought to New Zealand’s national aquarium some years before his escape by a local fisherman who found him caught in a crayfish pot.

He was scared and “rough looking”, and had shortened limbs, said Yarrell. “He had been living on the reef and fighting with fish so he wasn’t in the best shape.”

Yarell added that although the aquarium was not actively searching for a replacement for Inky, if a fisherman brought in another octopus they might be willing to take it on.

“You never know,” he concluded. “There’s always a chance Inky could come home to us.”

Sources: 1, 2

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