Following a series of failed escape attempts, one of UCSB’s resident octopi has made its final escape to the land of no return.
The recently deceased sea dweller, a female two-spotted octopus native to Santa Barbara waters, had a history of mischievous practices, including breaking out of its enclosure to allegedly kill and consume some of the aquarium’s other aquatic denizens. The octopus inhabited the Research Experience and Education Facility, an educational touch tank aquarium located at Campus Point, until its death. REEF Program Assistant Dana Nakase said the octopus made three recorded escapes from its tank during its stay at the REEF facility.
“It was a pretty decent sized octopus, so it was strong enough to push off any weights that we put on top of its tank,” Nakase said. “It escaped so many times that we had to make an octopus-proof tank. Normally we just have open-top tanks, but for the octopus we built a tank with a plexiglass cover bolted on top, and bars that we could slide open to drop food in.”
The REEF has a variety of tanks ranging in sizes from two to 2,000 gallons. While REEF Manager Scott Simon said many of the marine animals in the facility share space in a tank, but the octopus had to be kept isolated from the other animals, lest it fed on them.
“Octopi are really strong,” Simon said. “They can get a good grip on an animal, wrap themselves around it and eat it. Their favorite food is crab, but we had two fish go missing a while ago, and our only guess is that the octopus snuck out of its tank and ate them, then snuck back into its own tank.”
Two-spotted octopi typically live for one-and-a-half to two years and have a well-developed brain. During her reproductive cycle, the female lays more than 150,000 eggs and refrains from eating while brooding. Most will die after the eggs hatch, and according to Nakase, this caused the octopus’ recent death.
Following the demise of the REEF’s unruly animal, staff replaced the departed cephalopod with a very large new specimen collected Monday, which is fed live crab.
Nakase said that on each of its three escape attempts, the octopus had to climb out of its tank on the second level of a shelving unit and scramble down two shelves to get to the floor. On one occasion the octopus was found next to a drain on the floor, 15 feet from its tank.
Simon said if not detected, the octopus could have successfully escaped from the facility to rejoin its kind in the sea.
“REEF has a flow-through sea water system installed,” Simon said. “If the octopus had found its way into that, it could have easily escaped back into the waters at Campus Point.”
The REEF, affiliated with the UCSB Marine Science Institute, opened for free tours in Fall 2004. The aquarium is home to many marine organisms, including sea stars, urchins, sharks, rockfish and octopi. The building hosts 20,000 visitors a year and is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.