TODAY   |  January 05, 2013

Behind the scenes at the National Aquarium

TODAY’s Erica Hill was skeptical about making friends with an octopus named Poulpe when she visited the aquarium in Baltimore. Before she fed Poulpe a tasty frozen fish, she said, “You're sure we have nothing to worry about once we open this tank?”

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> i love dolphins. my kind of animal. when i was invited to a behind-the-scenes invite to the national aquarium in baltimore which included time with dolphins, i jumped at the chance. it turns out it wasn't the only thing that made me jump that day. they jump, they twirl, a lot. it turns out they like making new friends, too. go! ve very nice! helping out with the dolphins was everything i'd imagined and more. but to get to the dolphins, i first had to master the okay puss. why is the octopus the only one with a lid?

>> because octopus is somewhat of an escape artist. we're finding fish missing out another exhibit, they've figured out -- at night, it was hauling itself out --

>> you're sure we have nothing to worry about?

>> ing to to worry about -- nothing to worry about, exactly.

>> meet the giant pacific octopus . ready for a tasty fish-sicle treat.

>> place it on one of his arms.

>> anyway? hello there.

>> as long as you touch the suction cups, he can taste anything he's touching. if you want to touch him, go ahead.

>> i'm not really good with these things. that arm's coming after me. or maybe just a nibble on my arm. you'll save me, right?

>> i will save you. ah!

>> i don't think you got it there.

>> i didn't. that's the whole part -- i have to try again. oh! wow! wow! having finally bonded with the octopus, it was time to try my skills in australia. or a slice of it at least. they put me to work feeding some of the 1,800 animals who call the river gorge exhibit home. mm, black worms for the black wing . perfect, you can take it -- s>> move it around a little bit. you don't have to touch the worms. perfect.

>> maybe fruit salads are more my speed.

>> look at this --

>> the national aquarium 's goal is simple -- educate and inspire conservation. it's no surprise there's a heavy emphasis here on helping wild animals thrive.

>> i feel like we're little miracle workers .

>> the marine animal rescue program has brought in more than 270 animals. mainly seals and turtles like this little guy.

>> it's really rare to see a sea turtle nest up this far north . we brought it here, and sadly out of 162 eggs, he is the one that survived.

>> he's the only one?

>> he's about a month old. a little over a month.

>> he can probably get upwards of 300 to 400 pounds.

>> and all of these turtles will go back to the wild. that's always the goal?

>> that is always the goal.

>> unless they can't survive.

>> right. being able to see the final product and release these animals is the best experience ever.

>> with 16,000 species to care for at the national aquarium , it's no surprise this is a 24/7 operation.

>> this is not a 9 to 5 job. this is a lifestyle. i can turn my computer off at night. i can't turn them off. usually we get up in the middle of the night . we're here. and it's a blessing to get to be here and watch the animals. not a burden, it's amazing.

>> amazing, too, even when you're just here for a day. they were wonderful. big thanks to all the folks at the national aquarium . it's interesting to see the behind-the-scenes stuff. there's so much work that goes into, it preparing all of these specific foods to keep it as close as possible to their normal habitats --

>> you loved the experience so much, we want to bring in an octopus --

>> let me tell you, i am such a ninny -- i jumped back, i hit my head. i didn't swear, i was proud of myself. it's -- a suction cup , it sucks on to your hand. it's creepy. so i'm totally not cut out for that. i did promise that i will never again eat octopus.

>> how long did it take for you to break that promise?

>> no, i haven't. and i won't. no.

>> really?

>> no.

>> good for you.

>> yeah. i mean, that one didn't eat me. why am i going to eat the octopus?

>> wow. thoughtful.

>> thank you. that's my new