One Wily Octopus, 200 Gallons of Spilled Water

The Night the Octopus Flooded Heal the Bay's Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

One of the first changes Heal the Bay made 10 years ago when becoming owners of the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium was to retire an underutilized gift shop in the Aquarium, converting the space into the Kids’ Corner. This section of the Aquarium has been through several renovations since its unveiling in 2003, but it still remains a comfy area in the marine education center where families can read marine themed books, commune with some of the smaller creatures of the Bay displayed in kid-friendly tanks, stage a puppet show or enjoy games and puzzles.

No matter the various upgrades of the surrounding décor, the Kids’ Corner is best known as the home of the wily octopus that figured out how to push the flow valve out of its tank one February night in 2009. When staff walked in the next morning, we were up to our ankles in water – approximately 200 gallons of seawater soaked the Kids’ Corner and the staff offices.

The flood harmed none of the Aquarium’s animals, but this tiny cephalopod – weighing about a pound - caused major damage to flooring and cabinetry and produced a flood of another sort, attracting tons of media attention and record-breaking visitors’ attendance. We ran a kids’ essay and art contest, encouraging students to come up with a narrative of what went on in the Aquarium the night of flood. Art work and stories decorated our walls for weeks.

Today, the Kids’ Corner features an ever-changing lineup of local species, displayed in six porthole shaped tanks.

Peer into the “holdfast haven” exhibit, for example, for a close look at the root-like structure, known as a holdfast, which is the anchor of the giant kelp. Chances are a keen eye will see a collection of crustaceans called Hemphill’s kelp crabs. Their first pair of walking legs is exceptionally long, and covered with numerous curved hairs. They decorate this pair of legs with kelp, grass, algae and other organisms. When feeling threatened, this crab will raise one of its adorned legs and hold it horizontally as a shield between itself and a predator. The Hemphill’s kelp crabs were just added to the holdfast, also home to brittle stars, snails and other tiny organisms. Visitors are charmed by their antics, but at least weekly someone will ask: “whatever happened to that octopus that flooded the Aquarium?”

-- Randi Parent, Aquarium Outreach Manager

An employee of the Aquarium since Heal the Bay took over the marine education facility in 2003, Randi is writing a series of blogs highlighting the SMPA's 10-year history and previewing our plans.

If you haven’t already, come visit the Kids Corner of our Aquarium, located on the Santa Monica Pier, just below the carousel. Join us the first weekend of March to celebrate the Aquarium's 10-year anniversary!