Inky's great escape was 'typical' octopus behaviour, says Alberta cephalopod expert

Squishy, but not stupid — Alberta’s leading cephalopod expert on the multifarious behaviour and personality of octopuses.

Octopuses are smart, highly exploratory and each one has unique personality

Inky the octopus has made headlines around the world for his amazing escape to the Pacific Ocean from the National Aquarium of New Zealand. (The National Aquarium of New Zealand via AP)

His slippery escape to freedom has made him an international celebrity, but apparently Inky the octopus was just doing what cephalopods do.

"Octopuses get bored," said Jennifer Mather, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Lethbridge who studies the behaviour of octopus and squid. 

"I mean, here's an animal that explores everything in its environment and takes everything apart if you give it a chance. A tank can be a pretty boring place".

Under the cloak of darkness, Inky found his way out of his enclosure at the National Aquarium in New Zealand. Then he found a drain pipe and squeezed through back to the sea.

Just "typical" octopus behaviour, said Mather.

"Octopuses are smart, highly exploratory, very strong and their body is completely compressible because they have no fixed bones. So the result is if they want to go someplace, they will."

Mather can appreciate Inky's need to break free.

She's spent three decades studying the squishy sea critters  — more than a thousand kilometres from the ocean. 

"I have the luck to do field work in nice warm places like Bermuda and Hawaii."

We talk to an Alberta octopus expert about the great escape of Inky the octopus from an aquarium in New Zealand.

They can be mean, loving or shy

Now that Inky has said sayonara to captivity, the New Zealand aquarium has just one octopus left.

But he's not the star Inky was. 

Jennifer Mather has spent most of her career studying the behaviour of octopus and squid. She is a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Lethbridge. (

"We have another octopus, Blotchy, but he is smaller than Inky, and Inky had the personality," Rob Yarrell, the aquarium's manager told the Guardian.

Which is why aquarium octopuses are almost always given nicknames, said Mather.

She points to the the giant Pacific octopuses at the Seattle Aquarium that were named after famous people and cartoon characters.

"[There was] Leisure Suit Larry — whose arms were all over you if you stuck your hand into the tank. And they had Lucretia MacEvil who tried destroy everything in her tank. And they had Emily Dickinson who was so shy she hid behind the fake backdrop."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


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