Fa­ther and daugh­ter adopt a unique pet on ‘Oc­to­pus: Mak­ing Con­tact'

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As sea crea­tures go, the oc­to­pus is among the smartest, up there with whales, dol­phins and sharks on the sea life in­tel­li­gence scale.

But th­ese odd-look­ing, ten­ta­cled beasts also have in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties and unique skill sets and are ca­pa­ble of rec­og­niz­ing faces and in­ter­act­ing with other in­di­vid­u­als. An Alaska ma­rine bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor and his teenage daugh­ter learned this when they adopted one as a pet, which is the sub­ject of a PBS “Na­ture” doc­u­men­tary pre­mier­ing this week.

In “Oc­to­pus: Mak­ing Con­tact,” pre­mier­ing Wed­nes­day, Oct. 2 (check lo­cal list­ings), we’re in­tro­duced to Heidi and her keep­ers, Dr. David Scheel of Alaska Pa­cific Univer­sity and his daugh­ter Lau­rel, who ob­served the cephalo­pod’s abil­i­ties to change color, solve puz­zles, use tools and es­cape through small spa­ces as she oc­cu­pied a tank in their liv­ing room.

And ac­cord­ing to the Scheels, she was happy in cap­tiv­ity and bond­ing with her own­ers.

“One of the ways you know that an oc­to­pus is do­ing well,” Dr. Scheel ex­plained to a re­cent gath­er­ing of jour­nal­ists in Bev­erly Hills, Calif., “is by look­ing at their color pat­terns and their skin pat­terns and also how fast they grow. And Heidi grew rapidly and had what I con­sider very healthy, nor­mal, flashy, re­spon­sive skin and color pat­terns. And so when an oc­to­pus is un­happy in its en­vi­ron­ment, they be­come very re­tir­ing, they don’t come out, they don’t in­ter­act, and in the worstcase sce­nario, they can lose con­di­tion, and we didn’t see that with Heidi. She looked very good.”

And Heidi was a so­cial an­i­mal. Lau­rel says that when she would walk into the room, Heidi would perk up, not un­like a dog does when their owner en­ters.

Heidi also liked tele­vi­sion, and specif­i­cally come­dies, be­cause, as Lau­rel says, “she would perk up and ei­ther move to­wards the side that the TV was on or other more at­ten­tive sort of be­hav­ior. But I think one of the rea­sons why she liked come­dies more than other shows was that they have more color, and so there’s more for her to re­act to vi­su­al­ly­wise.”

As for Heidi’s fa­vorite, Lau­rel says, “‘Big Bang The­ory,’ And, of course, it has all the col­ors at the be­gin­ning, and there’s lots of col­ors spat­tered all through­out all the episodes, so that was cer­tainly one of the ones that had a big im­pact.”

“Oc­to­pus: Mak­ing Con­tact”

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