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Octopus floods Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

The mollusk diassembles a valve at the top of her tank, flooding the place with some 200 gallons of seawater.

February 27, 2009|Bob Pool

It's not surprising that with eight arms and inquisitive nature, the two-spotted octopus is pretty handy around its tank at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

Still, those reporting for work Thursday at the popular beachfront attraction were caught by surprise when they were greeted by water lapping around the kelp forest display, the shark and ray tank and the rocky reef exhibit.

The guest of honor in the aquarium's Kids' Corner octopus tank had swum to the top of the enclosure and disassembled the recycling system's valve, flooding the place with some 200 gallons of seawater.

"It had grabbed the tube that pulls out the water and caused it to spray outside the tank," said aquarium education specialist Nick Fash. Judging by the size of the flood, Fash estimated that the water flowed for about 10 hours before the first staff member, Aaron Kind, showed up for work.

Kind issued an all-hands-on-deck call to summon co-workers to the pier with mops, water vacuums and fans. Even though the aquarium is built over the beach, it has no floor drain.

The tiny octopus, which is about the size of a human forearm when its appendages are extended, floated lazily in the water that remained in its tank.

It watched intently through glass walls and portholes as workers struggled to dry the place out in time for the day's first busload of schoolchildren to arrive on a 9:30 a.m. field trip.

Randi Parent, the aquarium's community outreach coordinator, said the only significant damage was to newly installed ecologically sensitive flooring in several offices. It consists of linseed-and-cork tiles that soaked up the seawater and squished beneath workers' feet the rest of the day.

The incident was reminiscent of a 1994 incident at San Pedro's Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in which an octopus named Octavia pulled a plastic pipe loose. That giant Pacific octopus died when all of the water in her tank drained out.

Since octopuses are considered by many to be the most intelligent invertebrate -- and to have good memories -- Fash said he jury-rigged his octopus tank piping with clamps and tape in hopes of thwarting any further mischief by its occupant. "She would need tools," he said of his octopus, which until now had no name.

"Some people are suggesting we call her 'Flo,' " he said.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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