A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Great Octopus Escape – and Others!

All it took was for someone at the New Zealand National Aquarium to leave a tiny gap in Inky’s tank. When everyone went home for the night, he quietly slid out and lowered himself down the outside of the tank. Suction cup marks indicate that he crossed the floor to a drain, squeezed into it and emerged 150 feet later onto an outside deck. From there it was a simple climb down into the open waters of Hawkes Bay on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

A grand escape, indeed. But all in a day’s work for an animal like Inky. Octopuses are very smart. Each of the eight arms of the giant Pacific octopus has about 270 suckers, for a total of 2,000, any of which they can rotate and manipulate individually to accomplish the task at hand. This all takes a lot of brain power, so along with the main brain in their head, they have an additional brain in each of their eight arms.

No surprise, then, that there are numerous stories of these canny creatures making a break for it.

And check out how quickly they figure out how to get out of a tight spot!

One place from which Inky had not been able to escape from was a crayfish trap into which he’d slid. Fortunately, a fisherman found him and brought him to the aquarium.

According to aquarium manager Rob Yarrell, Inky arrived “scarred and rough looking.” Yarrell told The Guardian:

“He had been living on the reef and fighting with fish so he wasn’t in the best shape … He was very friendly, very inquisitive, and a popular attraction here. We have another octopus, Blotchy, but he is smaller than Inky, and Inky had the personality.”

He said the aquarium is not looking to capture an octopus to replace Inky, but might accept another rescue.

That’s good to hear. Inky had a good life at the aquarium, but he didn’t want to stay there. No animals, human or otherwise, want to be kept in captivity. That’s why part of us is always rooting for the animals to get out.

“I don’t think he was unhappy with us, or lonely, as octopus are solitary creatures,” Yarrell said. “But he is such a curious boy. He would want to know what’s happening on the outside. That’s just his personality.”

Inky is a success story for the aquarium, but the staff understandably miss him. “You never know,” Yarrell muses, “there’s always a chance Inky could come home to us.” But he knows that the octopus will be a lot happier out in the ocean.

So, too, would other octopuses in captivity in aquariums all over the world. Here’s one of them trying to make a break for it at the Seattle Aquarium as an amused crowd looks on:

Does it dawn on any of these people that the octopus doesn’t want to be there? She wants out! She’s being held captive in a tank where she doesn’t want to be. She does not exist for dumb people’s entertainment; she exists for her own purposes.

And the fact that those same people would probably get a kick out of knowing that Inky had escaped back to the ocean shows just how confused and conflicted is our relationship to our fellow animals. Even though a few of the animals at a zoo or aquarium may be rescues, the vast majority are not. These facilities are simply prisons, filled to capacity with animals who don’t want to be there.

Any more than you or I would want to spend our lives in a cage as an exhibit.

We all know this, and that’s why part of us is always rooting for the animals to get out.

Frank Lee Bull

jon-stewart-runaway-bull-041316Two weeks ago, in Jamaica, New York, an Angus bull made a run for it while he was being transported to a slaughterhouse. Frank Lee, as he was dubbed (after an Alcatraz prison escapee), headed for the what looked like freedom, a patch of green space on a college campus close by, where he was eventually tranquilized, recaptured and taken to a Brooklyn city shelter.

Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart and his wife, Tracey, who work with Farm Sanctuary, drove out to Brooklyn while the organization negotiated for the bull to be released to them, and with some help from their friends at Skylands Animal Sanctuary took him out to Farm Sanctuary’s home in upstate New York.

The national media were all over the story of Frank Lee’s bid for freedom, knowing that the general public would be upset if the bull had ended up at the slaughterhouse, just as would have been the case if Inky had been recaptured.

The Tamworth Two


But the #1 escape of all time was surely the delightful case of the Tamworth Two, a pair of pigs who escaped while being unloaded at a slaughterhouse in the English town of Malmesbury in 1998.

The five-month-old Butch and Sundance, as they were soon dubbed, squeezed through a fence, swam across the River Avon, and led police and other local officials on a merry dance through English country gardens, along winding lanes, and through manicured hedges and muddy ditches as they evaded recapture. And all this with more than 100 news reporters from around the world breathlessly reporting on wherever the two cuties had last been spotted. For example:

“The pig is evading capture at the moment. He is lying under a fir tree in Mr. Clarke’s garden … His whereabouts are now unknown. A clairvoyant keeps phoning to say he knows where the pig is.” (One of the hour-by-hour press bulletins by police officer Elizabeth Ashworth.)

“After all, we are the makers of Babe.” (An agitated Donatella Lorch of NBC News, standing in a chilly field, arguing that 250 million people in the United States were urgently awaiting news while the Daily Mail was claiming exclusive rights to the story.)

“These pigs must not go to the [slaughterhouse]. They have been so brave. To swim the river, which is almost at flood level, was superb … It’s a tragedy that people breed them just to have them slaughtered. They are very bright animals, you know.” (Peggy Hickson, Mayor of Malmesbury.)

“Our escape gratifies English love of puns, freedom and support of the underpig. The media have a frenzy for any old ham on the trotter.” (Comment by Sundance in an editorial in the London Times.)

Once recaptured, the porky pair were retired to an animal sanctuary in Kent, courtesy of the tabloid Daily Mail, which had donated the equivalent of $51,000 in today’s money toward their rescue – along with the inside scoop! (The Mail‘s coverage was voted #25 among “British journalism’s greatest-ever scoops.”)

Soon after settling in at the sanctuary, Butch and Sundance made their debut on British TV’s The Breakfast Show, which promoted their appearance with the message that “A pig is forever, not just for breakfast.” They were then booked on other TV shows and as after-dinner speakers, where, through interpreters, they promoted a vegetarian diet.

We Americans like to proclaim “freedom” as perhaps the most important of human rights. Great escapes like those of Inky, Frank Lee and the Tamworth Two, remind us that our fellow animals prize it as highly as we do. Whether you’re a pig, a cow, an octopus, a killer whale at a marine circus, or a human going about your daily business, you just want to be free to live your life as nature intended.