A common New Zealand octopus called Inky has escaped from his enclosure and bolted for freedom during a daring nighttime escape.

Taking advantage of the fact that the lid of his tank had apparently been left slightly ajar, Inky squeezed through a small gap and crossed the floor of the aquarium before slithering into a narrow drain hole. From here it was only 50 meters to the sea, and freedom, writes Dan Bilefsky for The New York Times.

Inky The Octopus Escapes New Zealand Aquarium

Inky the octopus captures the imagination with daring escape

While Inky is usually about the size of a football, octopus are famous for their ability to squeeze through tiny gaps. Some videos show the sea creatures passing through gaps the size of a coin.

As a result the breakout from the National Aquarium of New Zealand comes as little surprise. The incident in the city of Napier has gone on to become news around the world, and captured the attention of New Zealanders.

Aquarium workers have been piecing together the story of the escape, following octopus tracks across the floor of the facility. They lead directly to a drainpipe which comes out in Hawke’s Bay, on the east side of the North Island.

Tank-mate Blotchy stays at home

As the escape occurred during the night it was only noticed when workers arrived in the morning and found that Inky was no longer in his tank. His tank-mate Blotchy was still there, apparently content to stay at home rather than exploring the big wide world.

Aquarium manager Rob Yarrall told Radio New Zealand that staff had searched the pipes but not found Inky. Although the octopus made off a few months ago, the escape has only just got some attention from the media.

 “He managed to make his way to one of the drain holes that go back to the ocean, and off he went,” Mr. Yarrall said. “Didn’t even leave us a message.”

Escape entirely normal for octopus, say experts

Experts are not surprised by the escape, given octopus reputation for strength, dexterity and intelligence. According to Alix Harvey, an aquarist at the Marine Biological Association in England, Cephalopoda such as octopus, cuttlefish and squid can escape through tiny spaces, the diameter of which is only limited by the size of their beaks, which are the only inflexible part of their bodies.

Harvey recounts that octopus have been known to open jars and escape through tiny holes on boats. They are also known for spraying ink into water to create a smokescreen that distracts predators while they make an escape.

Others have been seen using coconut shells to construct underwater shelters.

“Octopuses are fantastic escape artists,” she said. “They are programmed to hunt prey at night and have a natural inclination to move around at night.”

She continued, “They have a complex brain, have excellent eyesight, and research suggests they have an ability to learn and form mental maps.”

Harvey recounts that one octopus in Britain used to make nightly trips away from its aquarium tank to go and feed on fish in other tanks, before returning home. Inky the New Zealand octopus was in fact following in his footsteps.

She says that their intelligence is partly due to the complex environment in which they live, such as coral reefs. Hiding from predators and pursuing prey takes a lot of brain power.

Another octopus named Paul found fame during the 2010 World Cup after apparently choosing the winning team in all seven of Germany’s games. He is now immortalized by a six-foot plastic statue in Oberhausen, Germany.