Inky the octopus

The Canny Octopus

I’ve been thinking about octopuses a lot lately. It’s like a seed that’s been planted in my head. This seed will sit there for a while collecting dust. After weeks, months or even years a few more pieces of information might get added to it and it will start to grow. The octopus seed might grow into a short story, maybe a fun character, perhaps some poems or part of a novel. Or it might wither and die. Never to see the light again. But, for now, it’s a seed.

The reason why I’ve been thinking about octopuses is because of two stories I saw recently.

The first was about Inky, an octopus that escaped from the National Aquarium of New Zealand.

Inky was not only clever enough to figure out how to escape – by opening his tank, slithering out of it and though a drainpipe into the open ocean – but he also had the sense to do it at night. He knew there wouldn’t be people around to catch him. That’s one smart, squishy octopus. The slimy trail he left behind was the only clue as to what had happened to him.

Apparently Inky had been donated to the aquarium by a fisherman who had caught him by accident. Poor Inky was looking battered and bruised because of fights with other fish (those mean fish – bullies) so the aquarium took him in. He must have longed for the open waters of the ocean, though, and wanted his freedom back.

Rob Yarrell, the manager of The National Aquarium of New Zealand, was interviewed about the incident for National Geographic’s website. He said: “I don’t think he was unhappy with us, or lonely, as octopus (sic) are solitary creatures. But he is such a curious boy. He would want to know what’s happening on the outside. That’s just his personality.”

Inky’s life and great escape could be a lesson to children on the importance of being independent and inquisitive.

Be different
Be free
Follow your dreams
Fortune favours the brave
If you never try, you’ll never know

The second story was about an octopus that had been trained to take photographs. Again, this was in New Zealand. A waterproof camera was mounted to the inside of the tank so that Rambo could take pictures of the amused spectators on the outside.

I’m not going to wade into the debate about whether or not captive animals should be trained to entertain people. That’s a whole other article. What I will say is that octopuses are canny. Smarter than dinosaurs, which are done to death in children’s literature. Besides, octopuses are so freaky looking they’re kind of cute. Kids love that.

I’m also thinking that if New Zealanders continue to train their octopuses then they shouldn’t be surprised when one becomes savvy enough to escape. Or take over the world.

Even The Beatles got it. They understood the appeal of octopuses. I refer, of course, to Octopus’s Garden. Knowing The Beatles the song might have been a euphemism for something else entirely, but I’m going to stick with the idea that it’s about an octopus – and his garden. “I’d like to be under the sea, in an octopus’s garden in the shade. He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been. In his octopus’s garden in the shade.”

I like to think that’s where Inky is now – an octopus’s garden – with his cephalopod mates playing pass the shrimp and octopus tag.

In the deep, dark depths of my soup
two eyes stared back at me.
A tentacle snaked out of the gloop
and carried me off to sea.

He took me to a faraway land
where the octopuses played.
We partied all night and it was grand
so that was where I stayed.

I wrote this poem one afternoon while cleaning the house. I quickly got it down on paper thinking I might use it for something, someday. Well, here it is. When I read it to my son for the first time he said: “But you would come back to us wouldn’t you, mom? You wouldn’t stay with the octopuses forever.”

Maybe, darling. Maybe.