AKRON, Ohio — The Akron Zoo’s new giant Pacific octopus made no bones about claiming as her own a name that means “beautiful” in Thursday’s final act of a naming contest that had netted 1,400 suggestions.
The 10-pound female octopus that reaches about 4 feet long from “tip to tip” grasped the first of three small pumpkins to slip out of a larger plastic jack-o’-lantern. She kept the one that read “Nani” — the perfect Hawaiian word to describe her — before discarding the rest.
“She grabbed it and held onto it for 15 or 20 minutes,” aquatic keeper Steve Balogh said.
Zookeepers narrowed the name choices to three for the octopus that arrived from Vancouver, British Columbia, in July. The other choices were Jet, because it describes the way an octopus moves by way of jet propulsion, and Ollie, because it was one of the top vote-getters in the contest.
Each small pumpkin bore one of the names and contained a shrimp as a treat to entice the octopus to explore her options.
Apparently the lady has a mind of her own. While all she needed to do was touch her choice first, she made sure everyone knew her preference by holding on to it.
“She took the lids off the pumpkins to get the shrimp. Once she got them out, she let the others go,” Balogh said.
Nani arrived in Akron shortly after the zoo’s resident octopus, Cora, died of old age.
Cora had been the first octopus in the Journey to the Reef exhibit, making her debut in a 300-gallon aquatic tank in the Komodo Kingdom Education Center in May 2012. She gained international attention when the zoo held a naming contest for her last summer.
Nani is not quite as feisty as Cora, who appeared to lie in wait for her keepers to stand above her tank before shooting a tentacle out of the water to grab them, Balogh said.
But Nani is starting to come out of her shell, so to speak, he said.
“She grabbed my arm this morning and sprayed me, probably because she was frustrated that I was up there so much today.” Balogh said.
Those behaviors are their way to explore surroundings and feel new textures and surfaces, he said.
Giant Pacific octopuses can be found in the Northern Pacific Ocean from Southern California, north along the coast of North America’s Pacific Northwest and south to Japan. They live in rocky areas, caves and kelp forests, from the shores to depths of more than 500 feet. They eat fish, shrimp, crabs, scallops and other shellfish.
On Thursday, Nani moved close to the wall of her tank as if to acknowledge Linda Criss, vice president of communications, who was touching the glass of the exhibit.
“They begin to recognize their keepers after a while,” Balogh said.