Octopus spread arms

You’ve gotta love an octopus!

Octopuses are the most fascinating and intriguing creatures you are likely to ever come across. Outwardly they are difficult to describe other than their obvious eight arms. But inwardly they are renowned for their high intelligence, blue blood, boneless structure, three hearts and nine brains. Yes a total of nine brains! The main brain is in their head between their eyes. They also have eight smaller neural centres or for argument’s sake, mini brains, that is one presiding in each arm. The central brain doesn’t control its every move. An octopus has approximately 500 million neurons (when a dog has on average 600 million) and two thirds are located in their arms. That’s why the use of these arms and the hundreds of suckers are able to think, act, smell and taste. An octopus also uses its skin to see because it has the same light-sensitive proteins found in its eyes.


Octopus SuckersBut the octopus is not just a creature known for its many brains.

They are renowned for their playful mischievousness like the laboratory that found all the fish disappearing from their tank. The staff set up a camera which revealed that one of the octopuses “was getting out of its tank, going to the other tank, opening it, eating the fish, closing the lid, going back to its own tank and hiding the evidence”. Octopuses can use tools, screw lids on containers, recognise individual people, take dislike to some people, capable of being skilled camouflage artists, walk as well as swim, quick learners and can regrow an arm. They have many more skills too.


Some 275 million years ago they even had a shell.

But in order to be more agile in deeper waters and new habitats it made sense to be more unencumbered by a protective shell.  This possibly encouraged them to develop their quick-witted intelligence. They have this problem-solving ability and their ‘curiosity and opportunism’ is characteristic of an octopus’s intelligence. On the downside their lifespan is only a few years in the wild. They usually reach adulthood after 1-2 years. Within months of mating a female, the male octopus will die. Females stay alive long enough to protect her eggs from predators. During this time she does not eat and slowly wastes away. She usually manages to live long enough to blow her eggs away from her den.


Octopus Curled UpWhy would you want to eat an Octopus that has the capacity to live a fun filled life for the short time he or she is on this earth?

You wouldn’t would you? But it’s an invertebrate like snails, lobsters, crabs, starfish, etc. We don’t associate them as having feelings. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel pain. For many years there have been numerous Scientific-based Studies which have concluded that lobster, crabs, langoustines and crayfish can feel pain. Hence they should be rendered unconscious before they are cooked. There are a number of governments including New Zealand and Switzerland which have brought in legislation that lobsters should be stunned before being dropped into a pot of boiling water. Highly intelligent octopuses are usually killed and prepared before they go into the pot. Apparently there are all sorts of different ways to kill an octopus. Probably the most weird is to bite the octopus in the area of the nerve centre between the eyes. This is where the large brain resides.


Octopus SleepingWhy do people in some parts of the world eat live octopuses?

The practice of eating live animals is still popular in many parts of the world. Eating octopuses is a popular delicacy in Japan and Korea and in the Korean restaurants in the United States as well. In Seoul, South Korea, there are restaurants who cater only for those wanting to eat live octopuses. Intrepid diners like chewing on tentacles from an octopus that is still alive and moving. To stop customers from choking, the octopus has to be cut in small pieces. Bigger pieces tend to get caught in your throat and you can die. Octopus can be served whole with its arms still squirming, sucking, grasping and wiggling on the plate. Seems diners like the sensation of the still-active suckers on the octopuses’ arms as they stick to the mouth and try to climb back up the throat. I think most peoples’ reactions would prefer diners not to be advised to chew before swallowing so they may end up being choked. So abhorrent and barbaric. When will it end!?


Octopus being heldUnfortunately people are eating more octopus than ever before.

Global production has increased from about 180,000 tons in 1980 to about 370,000 tons today. Yet overfishing has caused the closure of wild-octopus fisheries around the world. Scientists are trying to come up with a way of satisfying the demand by rearing octopuses from birth to adulthood in captivity to taking the pressure off the wild population. There has been notable progress on the science required for rearing octopuses. But surely it isn’t right for such intelligent and sensitive creatures to be kept in tiny spaces of aquaculture. To date no one has achieved a commercial solution to rearing octopuses ‘from egg to harvest’.


Large OctopusThe problems associated with octopus cultivation are many.

To start it is a labour intensive process as the octopuses have to be fed by hand. They are fed on ‘ground-up crab and other sea creatures’. But this is exploitative because it means wild marine animals would have to be caught to feed the farmed octopuses. There would also be a significant cost to their feeding regimes. Octopuses are sentient beings and life on a commercial octopus farm could hardly be ‘meaningful’. But then some people would argue pigs and cows are sentient beings and we eat them. Unfortunately science funding and investors are on the rise. Groups in Spain, Japan and South America have developed new tank set ups and rearing techniques for the octopuses. No good news then for these enigmatic and delightful creatures.

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