The Current

Inky the octopus's tenacious escape reveals intelligent, soulful creature

Inky the octopus made news this week for escaping a New Zealand aquarium through a drain pipe to freedom. The Current explores the mind of the octopus and asks why it is that we're consistently wowed by stories of animal intelligence.
Inky the octopus escaped the National Aquarium of New Zealand for the Pacific Ocean. (The National Aquarium of New Zealand via AP)
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'At another New Zealand aquarium, there's an octopus who has learned to take photographs of the visitors by sticking his arms into a tube and pressing a red button.' - Sy Montgomery, author of  The Soul of an Octopus

Inky the octopus's great escape from the New Zealand Aquarium has captured the imagination of people world-wide. The eight-armed invertebrate has made enough headlines to rival Donald Trump,  as the media marvels at Inky's fierce intelligence. 

But, perhaps people shouldn't be so surprised by smarts on display in the animal kingdom — least of all from an octopus. 

(damn unique/flickr cc)

Octopuses are problem solvers, inspiring Houdini-like techniques to accomplish a successful escape  — a common feat in many aquariums. And since the only hard part of an octopus's body is its beak, it can contort to fit into the tiniest spaces.

For example, an octopus as large as 300 lbs can squeeze through an opening just a little bigger than an orange. 

Octopuses need to be busy — their brains need stimulation at all times to keep them out of trouble. Often they like playing with toys such as Mr. Potato Heads and Lego - taking them apart and putting them back together. They also love to unscrew jars. 

An octopus never forgets a face. Research shows an octopus can recognize individuals. So if you visit one more then once, the octopus will know it's you!

We don't tend to think of  mollusks  as somebody with intelligence, somebody with a self, much less someone with a soul - which we consider holy. But after getting to know these animals over three years ... I came to the conclusion that if I've got a soul, so does an octopus. - Sy Montgomery, author of  The Soul of an Octopus

So how does the smarts of an octopus compare to others in the animal world? Glad you asked. 

Inky the octopus has done a great job exposing the smarts behind the species but in the animal kingdom when it comes to intelligence, octopi get a run for their money from a number of other species. 3:24

Guests in this segment:

  • Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness.
  • Stephen Newmeyer, professor of classics at Duquense University.

​This segment was produced by The Currents Sarah Grant, Sujata Berry, Ines Colabrese and Paula Last.