Freya has finally figured out that my hand is not food, but a friend. Freya was named after a Scandinavian ice princess, as she’s been cold and standoffish ever since her arrival at the aquarium. She had moved from a facility on the west coast, and moving can be stressful for anyone. Yet not octopuses react in this way, some are eager to explore and learn about their new environments. Yet Freya has since prefered to take food from long tongs and rarely leaves the far right corner of her tank to venture towards the door.
You can imagine my surprise to find Freya jetting towards me as I opened the door this afternoon. She was a deep red as her suckers caught hold of the rock wall near the door. She climbed up and turned to look at me with her left eye. My heartbeat instantly increased, she had never greeted anyone like this before. I scrambled to pull a fish out of her food pull to offer her when my eye caught hold of the blue kong toy near the door to the tank.
A weekend volunteer had tried to get Freya to play with the kong previously, but she had showed little interest in playing. But today seemed different, so I stuffed the kong with a fish. I carefully placed the toy in the water, worried it wouldn’t float, as Freya stretched two arms out towards me. One tentacle grabbed the toy, the other grabbed my hand.
As Freya wrapped her arms around the toy, her suckers explored my palm and fingertips. I could feel her strong hold drawing the blood towards my finger tips, but I didn’t want to break away. She had never been this curious before, and I was worried the moment would end quickly.
In Sy Montgomery’s book, Soul of an Octopus, she talks about entering “octopus time”. Well today, I entered octopus time, as I can not tell you how long I played with Freya. It could have been 5 minutes or an hour, either way I was lost in my interactions with her.
Freya found new ways to extract her treat from the kong the more I gave it to her. One time she stuck her arm inside the kong and pulled the fish out. The second time she held the kong upside down until the fish eventually slipped out. The third time, she brought the kong straight to her mouth and sucked on it until the shrimp was released. After she obtained her reward, she would sometimes play with the kong, exploring the grooves and ridges with her suckers or passing it from one arm to the next.
Freya eventually tired of the toy, and I figured that would be more than enough play for her in one day. She released the toy, them began to move closer towards me. Once again, she turned her left eye to face me and presented me with her head. I was so nervous she would quickly shy away, but I decided to reach out and stroke her head. She didn’t move as I carefully ran my fingertips across her soft head.
Freya seemed to have grown tired, and started to shrink back towards her far corner. I was left in amazement, as she had never interacted like this with anyone else. I had finally found a sparkle in Freya. I actually bonded with her. I’m already bursting with anticipation to see how our intimate moments today will carry into our future interactions.
This article does not reflect the views or the opinions of the New England Aquarium.