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NATURE: Octopus: Making Contact

Marine biologist Dr. David Scheel observing the octopus in his home in Anchorage, Alaska.
Courtesy of © Passion Planet
Marine biologist Dr. David Scheel observing the octopus in his home in Anchorage, Alaska.

Encore Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2 / Watch now with KPBS Passport!

⁠—An Alaskan Professor Raises a Pet Octopus in His Home and Makes Several Remarkable Discoveries⁠—

Octopus behavior has fascinated humans for centuries; their unique shape and skillsets often provide the inspiration for extraterrestrials in science fiction. New in the world of cephalopod research is the extent to which these intelligent animals are individual personalities – able to recognize faces and interact with other individuals – all of which is an odd adaptation for an animal thought to live an asocial existence.

The common octopus (Octopus vulgaris)
Courtesy of TheSP4N1SH / © Getty Images/iStockphoto
The common octopus (Octopus vulgaris)

Follow this new science through the story of a pet octopus and its evolving relationship with the passionate American scientist studying it on NATURE "Octopus: Making Contact."

Dr. David Scheel, a professor of marine biology at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, raises a day octopus in a tank in his home with assistance from his teenage daughter Laurel.

Laurel Scheel playing with “Heidi,” the octopus living with her family in Anchorage, Alaska. Octopuses in aquariums can remember and recognize individual human faces.
Courtesy of © Passion Planet
Laurel Scheel playing with “Heidi,” the octopus living with her family in Anchorage, Alaska. Octopuses in aquariums can remember and recognize individual human faces.

Given the name Heidi, the octopus bonds with the Scheels, showing recognition of their faces, excitement when the humans come near and an inclination for playing with Laurel.

Scheel links his discoveries — which also include Heidi’s demonstrated abilities to change color, solve puzzles, use tools and escape through small spaces — to octopus findings from all over the world, further proving the extraordinary intelligence of these incredible creatures.

“Octopuses followed a different evolutionary path, making them different from all other intelligent animals on this planet,” said David Scheel. “I am less intrigued by the differences and more interested in our similarities. What kind of a connection is possible with an animal that has three hearts and blue blood running through its veins? It’s been a privilege to have a relationship with such a strange and wonderful creature.”

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Octopus sitting on toy brick house. Anchorage, Alaska.
Courtesy of Quinton Smith / © Passion Planet
Octopus sitting on toy brick house. Anchorage, Alaska.

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CREDITS:

NATURE is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and PBS. For NATURE, Fred Kaufman is executive producer, Bill Murphy is series producer and Janet Hess is series editor. "Octopus: Making Contact" is a Passion Planet Ltd production for THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC and BBC in association with WNET. The documentary is written and produced by David Allen and is directed by Anna Fitch.

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