The staff of Santa Monica’s Pier Aquarium was surprised early last week when they arrived at work to discover one of their residents had flooded the facility:

They blame the soaking they discovered Tuesday morning on the aquarium’s resident two-spotted octopus, a tiny female known for being curious and gregarious with visitors. The octopus apparently tugged on a valve and that allowed hundreds of gallons of water to overflow its tank.

Octopuses are curious, intelligent creatures that show evidence of short and long-term memory in maze and problem-solving experiments:

In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have been reported to practice observational learning, although the validity of these findings is widely contested on a number of grounds. Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them. Octopuses often break out of their aquariums and sometimes into others in search of food. They have even boarded fishing boats and opened holds to eat crabs.

In our desperate economic times, such intelligence, talent and drive cannot go wasted. 

Why not train the Santa Monica octopus to run a major American bank?

Consider the possibilities:

• Researchers could construct a board of lit buttons coded with different shapes and patterns linked to the bank’s computers.  Whenever the octopus makes a decision that improves the bank’s balance sheet, a machine will automatically reward it with a crab.  Over time, the octopus will instinctively avoid shady credit default swaps and toxic-mortgage-laced collateralized debt obligations.

• The octopus can’t talk, eliminating the risk of arrogant, embarrassing congressional testimony and bothersome questions from nosy state attorney generals.

• The octopus will not require a bonus, stock options or even a salary, thus adding millions to the bank’s capital.  All it will want is crabs.  Its staff should import the best crabs and have them prepared with different recipes to give the octopus variety in its environment.  Considering the steady leadership the octopus will provide in these dark financial times, it’s the least we can do.

• The octopus will not demand to be transported by private jet.

• There will be no need for scandalous accoutrements like $35,000 antique commodes or $87,000 area rugs.  The octopus will be happy with a big, clean tank of salt water with some simple toys to bat around and a pile of rocks to hang out in.

And the Santa Monica octopus is gregarious with humans.  What’s not to like? 

If this works, the Treasury Department can conduct a secret training program to develop an octopus corps to take over when the bank nationalization Tim Geithner does not want to publicly admit is inevitable actually happens.

Of course, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium will have to be compensated for the loss of one of its star attractions.  A deal will have to be done.  Get John Thain to negotiate it.  He’s got a lot of free time on his hands these days.