Nature – Octopus: Making Contact

Air date: 10/02/2019

Discover the Otherworldly Abilities of the Octopus in Nature’s Season 38 Premiere Wednesday, October 2 on PBS

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. Follow this new science through the story of a pet octopus and its evolving relationship with the passionate American scientist studying it in Nature – Octopus: Making Contact, premiering nationwide Wednesday, October 2 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS Video app.

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. 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.”

Now in its 38th season on PBS, Nature brings the wonders of natural history to millions of American viewers. The series has won more than 700 honors from the television industry, the international wildlife film communities and environmental organizations, including 18 Emmys and three Peabody Awards. The series is available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video app, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. PBS station members can view episodes via Passport (contact your local PBS station for details).

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.

Support for Nature is made possible in part by The Arnhold Family in memory of Henry and Clarisse Arnhold, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, The Fairweather Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Kathy Chiao and Ken Hao, the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, Rosalind P. Walter, Sandra Atlas Bass, Doris R. and Robert J. Thomas, the Bradley L. Goldberg Family Foundation, The M. & H. Sommer Foundation, The Sun Hill Family Foundation in memory of Susan and Edwin Malloy, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by Viewers Like You.


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Octopus hanging at water surface reaching towards the camera. Anchorage, Alaska. Credit: Quinton Smith / © Passion Planet

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

Veined octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) inside coconut shell. Credit: © Nature Picture Library/ Alamy Stock Photo

Silhouette of diver with Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini). Credit: © Minden Pictures/ Alamy Stock Photo

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

Octopus floating in Dr. David Scheel’s living room aquarium in Anchorage, Alaska. Credit: Ernie Kovacs / © Passion Planet

Dr. David Scheel and Giant Pacific Octopus (in tank) looking at one another. Bellingham, Washington State. Credit: Ernie Kovacs / © Passion Planet

The common octopus (Octopus vulgaris). Credit: TheSP4N1SH / © Getty Images/iStockphoto

Octopus touches its reflection in glass tank. Anchorage, Alaska. Credit: Quinton Smith / © Passion Planet