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'Rambo' The Octopus Shoots Photos Of Tourists At New Zealand Aquarium


Let's play a brief word association game right now, Robert. I say Rambo, you say...


Rimbaud, 19th-century French poet - "The Drunken Boat."

CORNISH: No, no, try again. Rambo.

SIEGEL: Rambo - Sylvester Stallone.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: John Rambo, one man who's been pushed too far.

CORNISH: That's right. That's from the trailer for the movie "First Blood" circa 1982. Well, if you're circa now and may be up on all things Auckland, New Zealand, you no doubt think about Rambo the octographer.

SIEGEL: I, no doubt, have never thought of any octographer in my life.

CORNISH: Well, octographer actually as in octopus photographer. That's the word they're using at Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium in New Zealand to describe an octopus who has been trained to take photos of tourists using a waterproof digital camera.

SIEGEL: It's starting to make sense to me. Is the name of the octopus Rambo?

CORNISH: Yeah, it is. And her trainer, Mark Vette, says her name is indicative of her personality because when Rambo first got her tentacles on a camera, she beat it up.

MARK VETTE: She took the camera, ripped it off its hinges, ripped it off everything, smashed it to bits and spat it out.

SIEGEL: Just like Stallone's Rambo, a little hostile.


MARC DE JONGE: (As Zaysen) Who are you?

SYLVESTER STALLONE: (As Rambo) Your worst nightmare.

CORNISH: But Vette, who is a zoologist and animal behaviorist says Rambo's attack on the camera was all in good fun.

VETTE: The octopus is the only invertebrate that we know that actually plays.

CORNISH: And sometimes they just like to antagonize their trainers.

VETTE: When you go in to work with them, you can guarantee that the first thing you'll get is a squirt in the face.

CORNISH: Vette says he was asked to train Rambo to shoot pictures in order to raise awareness about how smart octopi are. And once he figured out how to secure the camera, Vette says Rambo learned quickly. Now when Vette presses a high-frequency buzzer, Rambo responds by sticking a tentacle down a hole and pressing of red button attached to the camera's shutter. In return, she gets a snack.

SIEGEL: And what is a good snack for an octopus?

CORNISH: Turns out shrimp - maybe a crab. As for how smart octopi, Vette says training Rambo only took three tries.

VETTE: You know, a dog would have taken something like 10 repetitions - a cat, maybe 20. Even a human would have taken more than her because we would be too weary about sticking our hand into an unusual hole.

CORNISH: So far hundreds of tourists have lined up for a session with Rambo the octographer. Its $2 a snapshot, and the money goes towards octopus habitat protection. And sometimes an added bonus - one of Rambo's tentacles sneaks into the picture.


RINGO STARR: (Singing) All I got is a photograph, and I realize you're not coming back anymore.

SIEGEL: I know what some of you might be thinking. And yes, we could have played Ringo Starr singing "Octopus's Garden," but that would've been too obvious.

CORNISH: We went with this deep cut instead. Well played, team. We're glad you're here listening to your public radio station. Tomorrow morning - the mystery of knuckle cracking explained.

SIEGEL: Why do our knuckles make that sound? NPR's Rob Stein will tell us. Listen for that on Morning Edition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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