Saturday, February 18, 2012

Traveling by Bucket

Behind the scenes at the Living Planet Aquarium, the husbandry staff have been hard at work “bucket training” the Giant Pacific Octopus. Bucket training is the process by which they teach the octopus to enter a special bucket for transport between her holding tank, where she lives while she's not on display, and her exhibit tank. The purpose of this training is to make the transition less stressful. Once the training is complete, the octopus will choose to enter the bucket and is accustomed to being inside of it while it is moved. This makes transport a lot smoother and does not produce responses such as inking, which indicate the octopus is stressed.

Bucket training is done slowly in stages, allowing the animal to become comfortable with each step before progressing to the next. Each step can take days, weeks, or longer. The process involves rewards for behaviors that lead the octopus closer to the desired goal. The trainer begins by introducing the bucket to the tank for a few hours so the octopus can check it out. The octopus is rewarded with food for touching the bucket, putting an arm inside, etc. The further she gets into the bucket, the more reward she receives. After the octopus is used to being inside the bucket, the trainer will begin tilting the bucket and moving it up and down. The next step is to take the bucket completely out of the water and set it on top of the tank. Finally, the lid is introduced. Once the octopus is comfortable being inside the closed bucket, she is ready to be moved. For the Living Planet's octopus, the entire process took about a month.

When training an octopus, it is important to remember that they are very smart. This can be helpful, but it can also make the process tricky. The Living Planet's octopus is not only intelligent, but playful and very active. Even after she had learned how to travel inside the bucket, she would sometimes sneak out an arm or two before the lid was put on. The husbandry team enjoys working with this frisky member of the aquarium family, antics and all. Now that she is fully bucket trained, she doesn't need to worry about getting from one tank to the other, but can concentrate on inspiring visitors with her unique characteristics and fun personality. She is now on display in the Ocean Explorer exhibit hall, so don't forget to visit her the next time you're at the aquarium.

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