By Claire Marshall
BBC environment & rural affairs correspondent
News that the world's first commercial octopus farm is closer to becoming reality has been met with dismay by scientists and conservationists. They argue such intelligent "sentient" creatures - considered able to feel pain and emotions - should never be commercially reared for food.
Playing with a Giant Pacific Octopus is part of Stacey Tonkin's job. When she lifts the lid on the tank to feed the creature known as DJ - short for Davy Jones - he often scoots out from his cave to see her and stick his arms on the glass. That's if he's in a good mood. Octopuses live to be about four - so, at one year old, she says that he's the equivalent of a teenager.
"He definitely exhibits what you'd expect a teenager to be like - some days he's really grumpy and sleeps all day. Then other days he's really playful and active and wants to charge around his tank and show off."
Stacey is one of a team of five aquarists at Bristol Aquarium, and she sees DJ reacting differently to each of them. She says he will happily stay still, and hold her hand with his tentacles.
The keepers feed the octopus with mussels and prawns and bits of fish and crab. Sometimes they put the food in a dog toy for him to tease out with his tentacles, so he can practise his hunting skills.
She says his colour changes with his moods. "When he's an orangey brown, it's more like an active or playful kind of feeling. Speckly is more curious and interested. So he'll be swimming around orange and brown, then he'll come over and sit beside you and go all speckly and just look at you, which is quite amazing.
Stacey says the octopus shows his intelligence through his eyes. "When you look at him, and he looks at you, you can sense there's something there."
The level of awareness that Stacey witnesses first-hand is to be recognised in UK law through an amendment to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill.
The change has come after a team of experts sifted through more than 300 scientific studies and concluded that octopuses were "sentient beings" and there was "strong scientific evidence" that they could experience pleasure, excitement and joy - but also pain, distress and harm.
The authors said they were "convinced that high-welfare octopus farming was impossible" and the government "could consider a ban on imported farmed octopus" in future.
But octopus tentacles sizzle in pans, coil on plates and float in soups around the world - from Asia to the Mediterranean, and increasingly the USA. In South Korea, the creatures are sometimes eaten alive. The number of octopuses in the wild are decreasing and prices are going up. An estimated 350,000 tonnes are caught each year - more than 10 times the number caught in 1950.
Against that background, the race to discover the secret to breeding the octopus in captivity has been going on for decades. It's difficult - the larvae only eat live food and need a carefully controlled environment.
The Spanish multinational, Nueva Pescanova (NP) appears to have beaten companies in Mexico, Japan and Australia, to win the race. It has announced that it will start marketing farmed octopus next summer, to sell it in 2023.
The company built on research done by the Spanish Oceanographic Institute (Instituto Español de Oceanografía), looking at the breeding habits of the Common Octopus - Octopus vulgaris. NP's commercial farm will be based inland, close to the port of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands according to PortSEurope.
It's reported the farm will produce 3,000 tonnes of octopus per year. The company has been quoted as saying it will help to stop so many octopus being taken from the wild.
Nueva Pescanova has refused to reveal any details of what conditions the octopuses will be kept in, despite numerous approaches by the BBC. The size of the tanks, the food they will eat and how they will be killed are all secret.
Dr Elena Lara, CIWF's research manager, is angry. "These animals are amazing animals. They are solitary, and very smart. So to put them in barren tanks with no cognitive stimulation, it's wrong for them."
She says anyone who has watched the 2021 Oscar-winning documentary - My Octopus Teacher - will appreciate that.
Octopuses have large, complex brains. Their intelligence has been proven in numerous scientific experiments. They've been observed using coconut and sea shells to hide and defend themselves and have shown they can learn set tasks quickly. They've also managed to escape from aquariums and steal from traps set by people fishing.
What's more, they have no skeletons to protect them and are highly territorial. So they could be easily damaged in captivity and - if there was more than one octopus in a tank - experts say they could start to eat each other.
If the octopus farm does open in Spain, it seems the creatures bred there would receive little protection under European law. Octopuses - and other invertebrate cephalopods - are considered as sentient beings, but EU law covering farm animal welfare is only applied to vertebrates - creatures that have backbones. Also, according to CIWF, there is currently no scientifically validated method for their humane slaughter.
Farming in the sea
- Aquaculture is the term given to the rearing of aquatic animals for food
- It is the fastest-growing food-producing sector in the world
- The global aquaculture market is growing at around 5% a year and is projected to be worth almost $245bn (£184bn) by 2027
- Some 580 aquatic species are farmed around the world
- As the human population grows, global aquaculture could provide a vital source of food
- Fish kept in captivity tend to be more aggressive and contract more diseases
- The EU recently published guidelines acknowledging the "lack of good husbandry practises" and "research gaps" in aquaculture's impact on animal and public health
Humans and octopuses had a common ancestor 560 million years ago, and evolutionary biologist Dr Jakob Vinther, from the University of Bristol, also has concerns.
"We have an example of an organism that has evolved to have an intelligence that is extremely comparable to ours." Their problem-solving abilities, playfulness and curiosity are very similar to those of humans, says Dr Vinther - and yet they're otherworldly.
"This is potentially how it would look if we were ever going to meet an intelligent alien from a different planet."
Nueva Pescanova says on its website that it is "firmly committed to aquaculture [farming seafood] as a method to reduce pressure on fishing grounds and ensure sustainable, safe, healthy, and controlled resources, complementing fishing".
But CIWF's Dr Lara argues that NP's actions are purely commercial and the company's environmental argument is illogical. "It doesn't mean that fishermen will stop fishing [octopuses]."
She argues that farming octopuses could add to the growing pressure on wild fish stocks. Octopuses are carnivores and need to eat two-to-three times their own weight in food to live. Currently around one-third of the fish caught around the planet is turned into feed for other animals - and roughly half of that amount goes into aquaculture. So farmed octopus could be fed on fish products from stocks already overfished.
Dr Lara is concerned consumers who want to do the right thing may think eating farmed octopus is better than octopus caught in the wild. "It's not more ethical at all - the animal is going to be suffering its entire life," she says. And a 2019 report - led by associate professor of environmental studies at NYU, Jennifer Jacquet - argues that banning octopus farming wouldn't leave humans without enough to eat. It will mean "only that affluent consumers will pay more for increasingly scarce, wild octopus," it states.
The whole debate is fraught with cultural complexities.
Factory farming on land has evolved differently around the world. Pigs, for example, have been shown to be intelligent - so what's the difference between a factory-farmed pig producing a bacon sandwich, and a factory-farmed octopus being put in the common Spanish dish Pulpo a la Gallega?
The conservationists argue the sentience of many farmed animals wasn't known when the intensive systems were set up, and the mistakes of the past shouldn't be repeated.
Because pigs have been domesticated for many years, we have enough knowledge about their needs and know how to improve their lives, says Dr Lara. "The problem with octopus is that they are completely wild, so we don't know exactly what they need, or how we can provide a better life for them."
Given all we know about the intelligence of octopuses, and the fact they are not essential for food security, should an intelligent, complex creature start to be mass-produced for food?
"They are extremely complex beings," says Dr Vinther. "I think as humans we need to respect that if we want to farm them or eat them."
Follow Claire on Twitter @BBCMarshall
- Animal welfare
- Fish Farming
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Nueva Pescanova's reply comes after more than 760,000 names were added to a petition calling for a global ban of octopus farming. Signatories argued against killing methods and said rearing normally solitary octopuses together in large tanks would be “torture on an industrial scale”.Why scientists are making the case against octopus farming? ›
An article published in 2019 in Issues in Science and Technology concluded: “Farming octopus is counterproductive from a perspective of environmental sustainability and misguided from a perspective of humane food production.” Yet many forms of aquaculture have been on the rise.Should octopus be farmed? ›
Researchers have suggested that, as particularly intelligent and playful creatures, octopuses are unsuited to a life in captivity and mass-production. Animal rights activists argue that farming octopuses will, based on this evidence, induce needless suffering on an unprecedented scale.What are the world's first octopus farm plans alarm scientists? ›
A plan to build the world's first octopus farm has raised deep concerns among scientists over the welfare of the famously intelligent creatures. The farm in Spain's Canary Islands would raise about a million octopuses annually for food, according to confidential documents seen by the BBC.Is octopus farm raised? ›
Octopus aquaculture describes the captive-raising of octopuses and commercial sale of their meat. A complex and labor-intensive form of farming, octopus aquaculture is being driven by strong market demand in the Mediterranean and in South American and Asian countries.Why is octopus farming good? ›
The firm argues that farming octopus will reduce fishing methods such as sea-bed trawling, for example, and ensure a supply of "marine-based food" while also "relieving pressure on wild fishing grounds".Did Hawaii take action against octopus farm? ›
The owner of a controversial octopus “farm” on Hawaii's Big Island was ordered to “cease and desist” nonpermitted operations in January after a clamor over the small outfit, which charges visitors $60 for the opportunity to touch a wild-caught day octopus.Is eating octopus bad for environment? ›
Octopus farming will further deplete fish species
For every 3kg of octopus killed, 9kg of fish must also be killed to feed them, making it an unsustainable practice. An octopus farm will further add to the fishing crisis the world faces and will continue to drain our oceans of fish.
Placing an octopus in an enclosed fish farm would results in more octopus deaths, increased aggression (as octopus are generally solitary creatures), and pave the way for widespread infection and disease.Is it cruel to keep octopus in captivity? ›
"One study revealed that octopuses in small tanks outfitted with flowerpots, stones, beads and shells still showed signs of distress and even self-mutilation. Your average fish tank setup probably isn't going to cut it." Octopuses are not bred for captivity or companionship.
Octopus is high in sodium, so be sure to eat it in moderation if you're watching your intake. Some people have an intolerance to the proteins in seafood. If you have an allergy to types of shellfish — like oysters, scallops, or shrimp — you should also avoid octopus.Is octopus ethical to eat? ›
Countries that eat the most octopus are Korea, Japan and Mediterranean countries where they are considered a delicacy. As the demand for eating octopus increases, including in North America, it's been called an ethical and environmental disaster with a whole new set of controversial issues.Should octopus be cooked alive? ›
Lobsters, crabs, and octopuses can feel pain and should not be cooked alive, says new report.Why is it OK to eat octopus? ›
Octopus is an incredibly nutritious lean source of protein. The seafood is low in calories and fat, yet it's full of vitamins B6 and B12, selenium, copper, iron, zinc, and more.What country produces the most octopus? ›
Octopus growth rates are relatively high and they also have a short life cycle, making them suitable for commercial aquaculture. The major producer of Octopus are; China and Japan.Which country declares octopus sentient? ›
The United Kingdom has confirmed what everybody who ugly cried during "My Octopus Teacher" already knew: Octopuses are sentient — capable, that is, of perceiving things like pain and pleasure.What are the survival strategies of octopus? ›
Octopuses use several different strategies to evade predators—they camouflage themselves by quickly changing their skin color, they make colorful displays or eject ink to startle or confuse potential predators, they squeeze into small crevices to escape, and they quickly propel themselves through water.Is octopus population booming? ›
Squid and octopus populations are booming around the world.Why can't squid be farmed? ›
Scientists have spent decades attempting to farm squid – a method long considered particularly challenging due to the animal's behaviour – but have had little success, according to OIST. The creatures are known to be aggressive and sensitive to water flow, and have particular food preferences and a complex lifecycle.Is octopus under threat? ›
Octopuses are in trouble
Like all marine life, they are seriously threatened by pollution, loss of habitat and over-fishing. The decline of octopuses also threatens the sharks, birds, whales, dolphins and fish that eat them. The marine food web is deeply interconnected, so protecting every species counts.
Some inshore octopus fisheries are sustainable and have a moderate impact on the environment, but most octopus fisheries, especially those offshore, exploit already low stocks, harm habitat and have high bycatch.Why is octopus energy successful? ›
We've built an energy platform that outperforms all others: it makes us lean and efficient so we can keep your prices lower. It empowers our team to look after you better. And it's incredibly agile, constantly growing and fit for a 100% green future.Why do octopus need 3 hearts? ›
2) Octopuses have three hearts. Two of the hearts work exclusively to move blood beyond the animal's gills, while the third keeps circulation flowing for the organs.Do Hawaiians eat octopus? ›
Hawaiian octopuses are none-the-less, a very popular food item and are sought after by local fishermen who catch them by hand or using spears. Early Hawaiians also relished octopus and captured them either by spearing or by using lures made of a large cowry shell lashed onto a hook.Are squids taking over the ocean? ›
Though the land takeover hasn't quite happened yet, cephalopods -- you may know them better as squid, octopus and cuttlefish, among others -- are taking over oceans. Since the 1950s, of the 35 species studied, most have seen a population boom, according to a new report in Current Biology.Is Hawaii overfishing? ›
Overfishing in Hawaii has become a problem because of the shortage of ahi or yellowfin tuna. There's been a shortage of ahi because of overfishing. Overfishing causes more problems than benefits.Is calamari a squid or octopus? ›
Many people think calamari dishes are made from octopus, when in fact calamari is actually made from a type of squid.Do octopuses feel pain? ›
A science-based report from the University of British Columbia to the Canadian Federal Government has been quoted as stating "The cephalopods, including octopus and squid, have a remarkably well developed nervous system and may well be capable of experiencing pain and suffering."Do octopus befriend humans? ›
Octopuses are playful, resourceful, and inquisitive. Some species cuddle with one another, while others have been known to bond with humans. They are among the most highly evolved invertebrates and are considered by many biologists to be the most intelligent.What is the biggest threat to octopuses? ›
Conservation and Management. The current biggest threat to the Giant Pacific Octopus is a byproduct of overfishing.
Octopuses have demonstrated intelligence in a number of ways, says Jon. 'In experiments they've solved mazes and completed tricky tasks to get food rewards. They're also adept at getting themselves in and out of containers.' There are also intriguing anecdotes about octopuses' abilities and mischievous behaviour.What impact do octopus have on the environment? ›
These impacts include nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from waste; contamination from fertilizers, algaecides, herbicides, and disinfectants; and the spread of diseases to wild marine creatures.What to do if an octopus grabs you? ›
- Pull away quickly. ...
- Do not go limp. ...
- Prevent the octopus's arms from wrapping around your arms. ...
- Peel the suckers from your body. ...
- Detach the octopus from its anchor. ...
- Turn somersaults in the water. ...
- Swim towards the surface.
Octopuses deliver venomous bites with their sharp beaks. Octopuses do not have teeth, yet they bite. Yes, you read that right. In place of teeth, these sea creatures have very sharp beaks that are capable of delivering venomous bites and breaking open clams and lobster shells.Is live octopus inhumane? ›
It's just as painful as if it were a hog, a fish, or a rabbit, if you chopped a rabbit's leg off piece by piece. So it's a barbaric thing to do to the animal. My thought is that if you had a whole octopus and tried to eat it, it would be a completely repellant situation because the octopus would try to climb out.What is octopus meat called? ›
Yanagidako is a cleaned and fully cooked octopus and is entirely edible. The tentacles can be sliced thin and are quite tender and tasty. The skin has a pleasing red color while the meat is a creamy white. Sliced or diced yanagidako can be easily added to salads, ceviche, soups, and sushi preparations.How long do octopus live if they don't mate? ›
It varies according to species, but octopuses, both wild and captive, live roughly 1 to 5 years. This short lifespan is a consequence of a reproductive strategy known as semelparity, meaning that octopuses breed only once in their lifetime and die shortly thereafter.Can you eat octopus raw? ›
Octopus can be eaten raw (alive, even, assuming you don't find that inherently cruel), and it can also be prepared using quick-cooking methods like sautéing, though it's riskier to do that than with, say, squid, a related animal that starts out much more tender. Anatomically, an octopus is intimidating.What is the most ethical animal meat? ›
1. Chicken. Environmental Working Group (EWG), researchers found chicken is the most sustainable choice out of all the different types of meat. "Certified Humane" or "Animal Welfare Approved" logo to ensure the animals are receiving the best possible care and treatment.Which culture eats octopus alive? ›
Live octopus is a delicacy in some parts of the world, including South Korea and Japan. But if it isn't prepared properly, it could kill you. A nutritionist told INSIDER it's not recommended because the suckers make octopus a choking hazard.
The meat is very white with a nice, firm texture. If prepared correctly, it is not tough or chewy, but actually quite tender. To me, they taste kind of “scallopy” and “crabby” at the same time, and can be served in cold dishes as well as hot preparations.How are octopus killed before cooking? ›
How do you kill an animal like an octopus? Current studies on wild-caught octopus slaughter mention a variety of brutal methods, including clubbing their heads, slicing their brains, asphyxiation in a net, and chilling in ice.Why do Koreans eat octopus? ›
A favorite dish for generations of Koreans, octopus heads have long been associated with good nutrition, not to mention their reputed qualities as an aphrodisiac.Is eating live octopus healthy? ›
Octopus is rich in many essential vitamins and minerals, making it an ideal choice for your seafood palette. Specifically, a serving of octopus is high in vitamin B12, potassium, iron, magnesium, and certain fatty acids.Is octopus good for your kidneys? ›
Possible benefits of the octopus
Phosphorus and calcium are important for healthy bones and teeth; Potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure and can reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones and bone loss during aging.
The Environmental Defense Fund also list octopus as having a 'moderate' amount of mercury (source: EDF). Given these two sources, and in the absence of any scientific tests, octopus can be presumed to be in the low to moderate mercury category. Therefore it can be eaten safely by pregnant women.How long do octopus live? ›
Seals, sea otters, sharks, and large fish are the predominant predators of the giant Pacific octopus.Can you farm raise octopus? ›
Are Octopuses Farmed for Food? To date, the majority of octopuses used for food are wild-captured. In 2020, the global catch totaled over 377,000 tons. While these creatures are not yet farmed especially for food, a number of companies and producers want to change that.Do octopus trust humans? ›
Among professional aquarists, octopuses have a reputation as highly individualistic animals that require frequent mental stimulation, often enjoy physical contact, and strongly prefer some humans over others, squirting water at one person playfully, while soaking another in what seems like a rebuke.
Invertebrates such as octopuses may experience other emotions such as curiosity in exploration, affection for individuals, or excitement in anticipation of a future reward."What animals are non sentient? ›
Non-sentient animals would then include sponges, corals, anemones, and hydras. Again, as in the case of plants, these animals may react to external stimuli, and even engage in locomotion.Is the ink from an octopus poisonous? ›
The ink from cephalopods is not toxic, contrary to popular belief. However, squids and octopuses do have venom glands completely unrelated and separate from the ink sacs. For more information about octopus ink, watch the video below!What do octopus do when they get scared? ›
When scared, octopuses will shoot a dark liquid, sometimes called ink, at the thing that scared them. This will temporarily blind and confuse a potential attacker, giving the octopus time to swim away.Do octopus need all 3 hearts to survive? ›
The third, or systemic heart, pumps the oxygenated blood around the body, fueling up the eight tentacles for whatever they and their suckers plan to do. Octopuses are quite active as cephalopods, and it's thought that the three hearts are necessary to maintain their power.Are we overfishing octopus? ›
The supply of octopus has been constrained by overfishing in many key fisheries and proponents of farming suggest human-induced culturing could help restock natural populations.Will octopus ever evolve? ›
Compared to other species, octopuses actually evolve really, really slowly. There are about 300 different species of octopus, which have been around for at least 300 million years.How much profit does octopus make? ›
Octopus Energy Group results for FY21-22: Revenues up 110%, from £2.0bn to £4.2bn Adds +1.3m retail customers, growing to 3.4m globally.Why is octopus farming bad? ›
Fish species are already on the brink of collapse from massive overfishing and any octopus farm will further deplete fish communities living in the oceans. For every 3kg of octopus killed, 9kg of fish must also be killed to feed them, making it an unsustainable practice.Why do we farm octopus? ›
The firm argues that farming octopus will reduce fishing methods such as sea-bed trawling, for example, and ensure a supply of "marine-based food" while also "relieving pressure on wild fishing grounds".
Additionally, farm-raised fish tend to have a higher instance of disease due to farming conditions. It is important to note that mercury can be found in both farm-raised and wild-caught seafood due to industrial pollution that finds its way into lakes, rivers and oceans. Large predatory fish have the most mercury.Why can't we eat octopus? ›
Octopus farming is cruel and immoral and this barbaric practice is condemned by both animal rights activists and many scientists. In addition to being extremely smart, octopus require stimulating and lively environments that are not found on factory farms.Why are squid numbers increasing? ›
And it's not only squids, but cephalopods as a whole - which also includes octopus and cuttlefish - that has increased in the last 60 years. This in time when marine populations have been declining due to climate change and pollution.Are octopus becoming endangered? ›
Studies show that octopus populations have been decreasing due to overfishing and the destruction of their habitats as well.Who is the best energy supplier at the moment? ›
- Octopus Energy: The ultimate for customer service, value and more. ...
- Utility Warehouse: A great service with good complaint numbers and handling. ...
- Ovo Energy: One of the best but gets lots of complaints. ...
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The hagfish ranks highly among the animals that have multiple hearts in terms of its sheer bizarreness. An eel-shaped, slimy fish, the hagfish is the only known extant animal to possess a skull but no vertebral column. Its strange, alienlike appearance likely contributed to its less-than-flattering name.Which animal has 9 hearts? ›
But their circulatory system is just as unusual. The octopus has multiple hearts, and that fact can reveal secrets about its evolutionary history while also informing our understanding of how they manipulate their environments. Here are all the facts you need to know about octopus hearts.What happened in The Boys with octopus? ›
In The Boys season 3, episode 7, The Deep took things a step further by asking his wife Cassandra to engage in a threesome with Ambrosia the octopus. The Deep believed the threesome could make their stale and seemingly non-existent sex life better, but it only turned Cassandra off.
The Octopus examines the struggle of California wheat farmers in the San Joaquin valley against the powerful Pacific and Southwestern Railroad monopoly. Norris employed the technique of literary naturalism in the novel to dramatize the issues of environmental determinism and social justice.Why are people against eating octopus? ›
Octopus farming is cruel and immoral and this barbaric practice is condemned by both animal rights activists and many scientists. In addition to being extremely smart, octopus require stimulating and lively environments that are not found on factory farms.What is Paul the octopus story? ›
Paul the Octopus (26 January 2008 – 26 October 2010) was a common octopus who predicted the results of international association football matches. Accurate predictions in the 2010 World Cup brought him worldwide attention as an animal oracle.Is The Boys disturbing? ›
Lots of blood and gore shown flying through the air in slow motion with some blood splattering onto the character, Hughie's face. After it happens, Hughie is left holding two hands that were separated from the body at the impact, and he then screams "ROBIN!". The violence is EXTREMELY graphic, gory and inordinate.What is the meaning of Herogasm? ›
The comic centers on the Boys as they infiltrate "Herogasm", an annual party for Vought-sponsored superheroes to allow them vacations.Did deep really eat Timothy? ›
Later, The Deep was forced by Homelander to eat Timothy, while he was still alive, during a meal. As The Deep starts to put Timothy inside his mouth, Timothy starts to pray until he is eventually crushed to death by The Deep's teeth.What did The Octopus teach the man? ›
Foster describes the effect of this mentorship-like relationship the octopus provided him, teaching him a lesson on the fragility of life and humanity's connection with nature. This transfers to Foster creating a deeper bond with his son, Tom Foster, as his son develops as a diver and marine biology student.What is the scary octopus myth? ›
Perhaps the most famous mythical representation of the octopus is the Kraken. It's a legendary, giant cephalopod-like sea monster originating from Scandinavian folklore. According to the Norse sagas, the Kraken dwells off the coasts of Norway and Greenland and terrorizes nearby sailors.Why didn t he save The Octopus? ›
Why doesn't Craig intervene when the octopus is attacked by a shark? Craig didn't want to interfere with the natural course that nature must take. The reality can be heartbreaking, especially as many of us watched alongside Craig as the Common Octopus got her arm bitten off by a pajama shark.Is A octopus intelligent? ›
Octopuses have demonstrated intelligence in a number of ways, says Jon. 'In experiments they've solved mazes and completed tricky tasks to get food rewards. They're also adept at getting themselves in and out of containers.' There are also intriguing anecdotes about octopuses' abilities and mischievous behaviour.