anthropometaphors

translating biophilia into a love of life

Brilliant, bored and angry

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Otto the Octopus has been all over the news in the past few months. The six-month cephalopod at Germany’s Sea Star Aquarium is brilliant, bored and – apparently – angry.

Otto the octopus

An aquarium spokesperson said:

“We knew that he was bored as the aquarium is closed for winter, and at two feet, seven inches Otto had discovered he was big enough to swing onto the edge of his tank and shoot out the 2000 Watt spot light above him with a carefully directed jet of water.”

Director Elfriede Kummer, a witness to the act, had this to say:

“We’ve put the light a bit higher now so he shouldn’t be able to reach it. But Otto is constantly craving for attention and always comes up with new stunts so we have realized we will have to keep more careful eye on him – and also perhaps give him a few more toys to play with.

“Once we saw him juggling the hermit crabs in his tank, another time he threw stones against the glass damaging it. And from time to time he completely re-arranges his tank to make it suit his own taste better – much to the distress of his fellow tank inhabitants.”

Keeping living animals in captivity is a demanding endeavor at best, and abusive at worst. The usual justification for keeping animals in captivity is for education or conservation purposes. If animals are to be humanely maintained in confined spaces — often in close proximity to natural predators (or prey) — those involved in their care share a tremendous responsibility to ensure the animals’ safety and well-being, including habitat designers, daily caretakers and zoo or aquarium directors.

Otto and a "toy" in the form of a sealed jar.

Cephalopods — and octopus in particular — have long been known to be crafty, independent and wicked smart. If an amateur animal behaviorist (that’s me) knows as much, I’d expect the Director of an aquarium to know far more. While I’m not privy to the tank’s layout or Otto’s behavioral enrichment options, the octopus’ behavior is a clear indication of stress induced by limited space and inadequate mental stimulation.

In the repeated attempts to extinguish a spotlight above his tank, Otto is behaving with the inquisitiveness and problem-solving nature to be expected by an octopus. Were the caretakers to be somewhat more octopus-like in their approach to the situation, they might imagine how a 2000 watt light shining directly overhead all night could be a disturbing nuisance.

It’s unfortunate that those at Sea Star are just now coming to understand the needs of housing such an amazing animal. After his caretakers “perhaps give him a few more toys to play with”, I hope Otto is transferred to a more appropriate habitat — an expansive space complex and stimulating enough to satisfy his cephalopodian streak.

I find octopuses indescribably fascinating. Their movement is surreal and their advanced intelligence — which is based on a different neural system from that of vertebrates — commands respect. I enjoyed the following clip that shows an octopus “walking” on it’s tentacles, carrying a coconut. At one point, the octopus climbs into the shell and moves like a rolling wheel.

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Written by morethangray

December 5, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Posted in thoughts

Tagged with ,

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