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Octopus Enrichment
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Octopus Enrichment Program

Goal setting:
The Octopus Enrichment Program provides the giant Pacific octopus opportunities for exploration and interaction similar to that observed in the wild. It also seeks to reduce the frequency of octopus jetting and crashing into the side of its tank. The adjoining behavioral study serves to evaluate the animal’s reaction to specific objects.

Implementation:

  1. Five days a week, during a four-week period, an object is introduced on the scheduled day. The initial objects (jar, rubber dog toys, PVC tube, etc.) have no connection with the octopus’s natural habitat. The resulting behaviors are natural species-specific behaviors. With each introduction, the octopus’s behavior is recorded to identify its level of interaction with the object. A one week break of no introductions is followed by another cycle of four weeks of introductions. After several months a food aspect is associated with the objects introduced, such as a shrimp within a rubber dog toy.
  2. The tank's walls have irregularities (including shelves, archways, and three doors) allowing the octopus to move through it and interact with it. This creates a key element of complexity. Water movement providing a water curtain on the tank’s edge will hopefully indicate to the octopus the edge of the tank, reducing the frequency of wall crashing.

Documentation and record keeping:
Octopus behavior data is recorded on an ethogram with each object introduction. Recording begins ten minutes prior to the object’s introduction and continues for two hours. Behaviors such as staying in place (clinging, arm movement), moving (arm walking, hanging in water), and jetting (hop, slam) are recorded at thirty second intervals initially and then at ten minute intervals to identify initial as well as residual interaction. Enrichment sessions are recorded on staff daily reports and behavior data sheets compiled in a database.

Evaluation and Adjustment:
The continued use of an object is determined by the octopus’s qualitative and quantitative interaction with it. Discussions of the octopus enrichment occur weekly during unit meetings. Analysis of the behavior observation data will provide more detailed information. When planning the enrichment calendar for the month, the Invertebrate staff remove or add objects to the calendar. At the end of each four-week data collection segment observers are consulted for feedback.

Subsequent Program Refinement:
Future program development plans include developing objects and puzzles that require more than one kind of manipulation to explore. In addition, creating physical changes with interchangeable internal surfaces and adding large interchangeable acrylic tunnels to annex the tank will be considered. The resulting observation data will begin to more definitively identify which objects and activity in and around the tank result in reactions that encourage exploration and enrich the octopus.

 
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