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Inky The Octopus Goes Shawshank

Taken from the wild by a fisherman in New Zealand several years ago, Inky the Octopus escaped earlier this week by wriggling through a drainpipe.

A wily octopus, formerly a resident of the New Zealand National Aquarium, has captured the hearts and minds of humans across the world with what some are dubbing "the cephalopod version of 'Shawshank Redemption.'"

Inky, a common New Zealand Octopus, apparently found a small gap in his enclosure, let himself out, squished across the floor and escaped through a six-inch-wide drain to the ocean.

"And he didn't even leave us a message," aquarium manager Rob Yarrall told Radio NZ.

Inky's escape route at the New Zealand Aquarium. Photo by National Aquarium, New Zealand

Octopuses are very malleable and can fit through any size hole, as long as their beak—the only hard part of their body—can fit.

As The Verge points out, the only thing surprising about this story is that Inky didn't trash the place on his way out. Octopuses have a long history of causing headaches for humans, going all the way back to 1873, when an octopus at the Brighton Aquarium was discovered letting himself out of his own tank and helping himself to a fishy meal from the adjoining tank.

In 2009, an octopus at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium disassembled a valve in its tank, flooding the aquarium with 200 gallons of seawater. (The octopus, which some suggested naming 'Flo' after her adventure, survived.) Octopuses have been observed opening screw-top jars , dismantling Legos and opening childproof pill bottles.

Marine biologist James B. Wood, writing in Octopus: The Intelligent Vertebrate, relates a story of how he caught an octopus off Key West, Florida.

She was placed in a bucket with 1 gal. of water. Not having a lid, I filled the other bucket two-thirds full of water and slid it into the first bucket to cover it. I carefully inspected this setup, knowing octopuses' strength and ability to escape. The water in the top bucket must have [weighed] at least 20 lb, and the crack between the two buckets was no larger than 1/2 inch at the most, much too small for the beak of an octopus that size to get through. My friend said years later that at the time he thought I was being overly careful in my precautions.

…About an hour later we returned to the buckets. The octopus was gone.

Sometimes octopuses' curiosity and survival instincts get them into trouble. Writer Sy Montgomery describes two captive octopuses' varied reactions to a complex nested puzzle box that aquarium keepers had given them to keep them occupied:

The impetuous Gwenevere squeezed the second-largest box so hard she broke it, leaving a hole two inches wide. Truman, [Aquarist Bill] Murphy said, was “an opportunist.” One day, inside the smaller of the two boxes, Murphy put two crabs, who started to fight. Truman was too excited to bother with locks. He poured his seven-foot-long body through the two-inch crack Gwenevere had made, and visitors looked into his exhibit to find the giant octopus squeezed, suckers flattened, into the tiny space between the walls of the fourteen-cubic-inch box outside and the six-cubic-inch one inside it. Truman stayed inside half an hour. He never opened the inner box — probably he was too cramped.

But octopuses don’t always emerge from their escapades unscathed. As a 2004 paper points out, most escaped octopuses don't make it back to their tanks. And in 1994, a giant Pacific octopus named Octavia pulled the plug on her own tank, draining it entirely. She didn't make it.

Lest anyone wonder whether Inky met a tragic end trapped somewhere between his drain pipe and the ocean, aquarium staff say they searched the entire pipe after noticing he was gone. Inky, the New Zealand aquarium is pretty sure, has made it to freedom.

Godspeed, Inky.

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