(photo by Ashley Archibald)

SM PIER — Big disasters can sometimes come in small packages.

The Heal the Bay Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is facing up to $20,000 in damages as a result of a mischievous octopus that flooded the building with 200 gallons of sea water last week.

The water the octopus released through the circulation pipe in her tank cascaded out into the offices and experiment section. Most of the displays were spared.

The wave of destruction belies the creature’s diminutive size. The full-grown female California two-spotted octopus is only a foot long.

The damage to the aquarium, however, was severe. Sea water saturated recycled flooring installed in September 2008, seeped under the front entryway and destroyed the front facade of the display. The drywall on the western side of the building is soaked a foot and a half from the base and one of the public bathrooms is out of commission.

Dehumidifiers dot the office to dry out the walls, but all of the new flooring had to be taken up immediately and much of the drywall near the floor was removed. Workers sprayed sharp-smelling disinfectant to prevent the growth of mold in the moistened surfaces.

Replacing the floor alone will cost between $6,000 and $8,000 said Vicki Wawerchak, director of the aquarium, and recreating the display another $5,000 to $6,000.

Even so, Wawerchak said, it could have been a lot worse.

“The octopus survived and all the animals survived,” she said. “The story has a great ending, at least.”

Despite the damage, tours carry on more or less as usual. The aquarium gets about 120 students a day as part of its school programs. Those students had to be re-routed through the side doors of the aquarium as workers dried out the front walkway.

“It’s really chaotic right now, but people have been very patient with us,” said senior aquarist Jose Bacallao.

Although the immediate crisis is over, Wawerchak said, there is still a big bill to pay.

“We’re working with the insurance companies, but we have to look to the next step of donations and fundraising efforts,” Wawerchak said.

Interested parties can donate to the aquarium over the phone or online.

The octopus sits in its tank as if nothing ever happened, and, after modifications were made to its tank to prevent another disaster, staff seemed ready to forgive it.

“You can’t be mad at it, it’s their curious nature and intelligence,” Wawerchak said. “They like to move around a lot. It’s exactly what you want them to do in this situation — have them act like they do in the wild.”


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