Octavia the Octopus Dies as Tank Empties : Animals: The sea creature at San Pedro aquarium apparently tore off a drain pipe with her tentacles overnight. The death intensifies controversy over her captivity.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alas, poor Octavia, she pulled the plug.

And therein is the sad end to the story of Octavia the Octopus, in life one of the great controversies--and drawing cards--of San Pedro's Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

In death, she is the object of charges and countercharges of what should have happened but didn't.

Octavia the Octopus was found dead Monday morning at the bottom of her waterless tank. Aquarium officials surmise that she used one of her powerful tentacles to pull off a plastic pipe that served as a water drain. With the pipe removed, water began to flow out faster than it was coming in. The end was inevitable.

When a custodian arrived at 6:30 a.m., he found Octavia. On Monday afternoon, animal rights activist Kathy Yandell was in front of the aquarium carrying a sign bearing the word shame.

For weeks, Octavia had been the source of controversy. Caught by fishermen off San Clemente Island in January, she was the first giant Pacific octopus to go on display at the aquarium. The row began almost immediately.

The target of the original protest was the size of the aquarium that became Octavia's new home. Animal rights protesters said the orange-red giant was far too big for the 4-by-5-foot tank, that Octavia should be freed, or at least be placed in a larger tank.

The aquarium's exhibit director, Mike Schaadt, countered that the tank was just fine and that an octopus is most comfortable in snug surroundings.

The protesters said Octavia might fall victim to octopus automutilation syndrome, which is exactly what the name implies, if kept in the tank.

Schaadt said that Octavia was doing fine, eating well and moving about the way a healthy octopus should.

Protesters carried placards depicting a tearful octopus that said, "Please Let Me Go Home." The aquarium said no way.

"They received many signed petitions by children and adults urging them to let the octopus go," said Lisa Lange, international campaigns manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights group. "Instead, they chose to keep her and now she's dead."

Lange also said there should have been more safeguards to keep the octopus from pulling the plug on the drain.

"No other octopus we know has ever pulled the plug from its own tank," she said. "If they had let her go, this wouldn't have happened."

Schaadt, in response, said that precautions were taken and that the pipe was glued in with a silicone sealer.

"It's absolutely amazing to us that this happened," he said. "We are very saddened here at the aquarium."

Lange also said she had received a call early this morning, before Octavia was discovered, from a Los Angeles animal rights activist worried that the octopus had taken on a whitish tone. Lange said it was a well-known fact that such coloration in an octopus was a sign of stress.

But Schaadt said Octavia was able to turn a number of colors, depending on the circumstances. He said the octopus turned white when she appeared to be in her "quiet state." Further, he contended that releasing the octopus might not have been the best thing, that all manner of things could have gone wrong once Octavia was freed.

"We believe she was better off in our care," he said. "We believe we did the best we could."

Perhaps so, but on Monday afternoon, Schaadt was taking his lumps. A protester carried a sign that said: "Mike Schaadt, What Are the Children Learning Now?"

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