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Houdini-like octupus wins its freedom -

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Houdini-like octupus wins its freedom

The World Today - Friday, 13 February , 2009 12:54:00

Reporter: Kerri Ritchie

BRENDAN TREMBATH: An octopus has won its freedom from a New Zealand aquarium by convincing its
keepers that it needs to return to wild to find a mate.

Sid has made several Houdini-like escape attempts. The slippery creature is believed to be looking
for love.

New Zealand correspondent Kerri Ritchie reports.

KERRI RITCHIE: Sid's great escape is Hollywood material.

Matthew Crane is senior aquarist at the Portobello Aquarium just outside Dunedin. He's had the
difficult job of keeping tabs on Sid.

MATTHEW CRANE: I came in and one his doors was slightly ajar so I had a good look for him, couldn't
see him, looked high and low, assumed he'd actually made it out to the harbour through the draining
system.

KERRI RITCHIE: Five days later a staff member apprehended Sid as he tried to slide out a side door.

He'd been hiding in the drain, which pumps sea water into the aquarium.

Since then Sid has made several other escape attempts.

MATTHEW CRANE: Since then we have put extra security on the tank to make sure he can't get out of
there.

KERRI RITCHIE: Sid is only about half a metre long and weighs about a kilogram.

But Matthew Crane says size isn't everything.

MATTHEW CRANE: They can change their colour of their skin and the texture of their skin in a
fraction of a second. Sid is a bit harder one to get hold of, he doesn't always feeds when we think
he might, he does tend to feed at night. Most octopus do feed nocturnally so I guess that's a
pretty typical octopus behaviour for them.

However, some like to roam around more, some like to sit where they're at. And he goes through
spells where he'll just sit and not do much for a few days and then in the next few days he's very
active and exploring his habitat and looking around the window and stuff.

KERRI RITCHIE: Octopi are also very cluey.

MATTHEW CRANE: Many people will consider the octopus is the most intelligent vertebrate, or animals
without a backbone. A not a lot of people will give them the intelligent equivalent to a dog
because you can't train them.

So I mean if you could train them to open a jar with a crab in it over a matter of week or two,
absolutely I have no doubt that, yeah, once they realise that is the source of escape, that they
would remember that and again try to attempt that in the future.

Quite a few aquariums and labs have had fish disappear or animals disappear and so accidently
finding the octopus in the act, I never knew it because the octopuses are always back in their
enclosure just as it was when everyone was home.

Which obviously shows quite a bit of intelligence to realise not only to get out and get your food
but go back and close your doors and everything to make sure no one finds out it was you. So yeah,
I would say definitely has the memory capability to remember once it came out before and how to get
back out.

KERRI RITCHIE: Matthew Crane believes the opposite sex is what's driving Sid to make a break for
the ocean.

This afternoon the aquarium will set Sid free; in the hope he can find his perfect match.

MATTHEW CRANE: We are realising he is getting a bit older in his life and maybe searching for a
mate so this is why we've gone ahead and set his release for today, which nicely fits in with
Valentine's Day. So hopefully he may go find a mate to finish off his lifecycle, because they do
tend to breed at the end of their lifecycle.

KERRI RITCHIE: So Sid now goes looking for love. Is he going to be okay out there because it's not
easy?

MATTHEW CRANE: No, it's not. It's not a sure thing, they are again a common species, hence the
name. So we are pretty confident that he will find a mate. He does have to compete with possible
predators.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: A senior aquarist at the Portobello Aquarium, Matt Crane, ending Kerri Ritchie's
report.