'I won today': What it's like to train a highly intelligent octopus

“I won today,” Mikiko Williams said as she hoisted a bright orange basket containing Ozzie – a 40 lb. Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) – out of an aquarium.

Williams has been a Staff Biologist at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) in Tacoma, Washington for 6 years now, and is Ozzie’s primary caregiver.

Octopuses are highly intelligent. To keep Ozzie engaged, Williams uses a basket as both a behavioral enrichment and to make Ozzie easier to transport.

‘They create their own entertainment‘

Over time, Ozzie has learned that the longer she stays outside of the basket the more rewards – in the form of food grade shrimp, and play time – she will receive.


What began as a simple, 5 minute exercise can now take nearly an hour.

“They create their own entertainment,” Williams told Yahoo Finance. Some days Ozzie ‘wins’ by deliberately avoiding the basket until Williams runs out of time and needs to attend to other animals.

'Ozzie' Giant Pacific Octopus
'Ozzie' Giant Pacific Octopus

All the Giant Pacific Octopuses on display at PDZA’s new $51.6 million Pacific Seas Aquarium are part of a program to catch them locally in Puget Sound, raise them to maturity, and then eventually release them back into the wild.

“I think we are really lucky to have the opportunity to release the animal,” Williams tells Yahoo Finance. “Letting go is kind of sad because you're going to miss that animal. But at the same time, thinking about the future in the wild … I'm really happy about that.”

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