‘I truly believe that each octopus is an individual with its own personality.’
“I’ve been interested in octopuses since I was a kid, but now as an adult, I not only have them, I rescue them. My current octopus is named Birdie, but she’s not my first. Before her, I had one named Damian, and along the way, I had a couple of other octopuses. I’m also a serious saltwater tank hobbyist. When I walk into a fish store where they know me, they might say they got an octopus by mistake and aren’t set up to take care of it or don’t want someone not able to care for it to just buy it, so I’ll take it. I’ve built a network of people, and when they see something, they text me, like, ‘Hey, I saw an octopus at this store…’ It’s crazy, but that’s how it works.
“When I rescue an octopus, first I have to make sure I have a place to put it as it has to be the only thing in its tank; it can’t be with any fish or other octopuses. Once home, I acclimate it to the water, and to make it comfortable, I put in rocks, sand and some live food, like crabs or snails, so they can still eat like they did before I came into the aquarium. In nature, they hunt; you can see them putting their arms underneath the rocks, into holes and crevices, constantly searching for food, but I get them on frozen food as fast as I can, as getting live food all the time can be a problem, especially in the winter. I get them acclimated to table shrimp, dead mussels and frozen clams to give them a healthy diet all year.
“I truly believe that each octopus is an individual with its own personality. It’s incredible how smart they are. When I walk into the room, Birdie sees me and moves to the top of the tank, knowing I’m going to feed her or give her something to do. When I put my hands in the tank, Birdie immediately comes over and crawls all over my hand and tries to figure out what’s going on or maybe try to pull my hand into her cave. If I’m away on a trip and someone else has to feed Birdie, she’ll squirt water at them, or sometimes she’ll throw the food back or refuse to eat. She definitely recognizes me versus somebody else. They are intelligent; I would go as far as to say as smart as a 2- or 3-year-old human.
‘They see it in a store, think it’s cool and impulsively buy it, and then two days later it’s dead because that just doesn’t work with octopuses.’
“I don’t make any money saving octopuses, definitely not. Everything involved, it’s out of my pocket. My wife also thinks it’s amazing. I mean, she’s not too keen on the money or the time part, but she’s definitely as amazed by octopuses as I am. My kids love it, too. My oldest daughter will stick her hand in the tank and try and play with Birdie, and she’s fascinated with how strong Birdie is.
“I really wouldn’t recommend getting an octopus as a pet, though, because they involve a lot of investment in terms of money, equipment, food, time, dedication; and on top, it takes a lot of experience to recognize the little signs that show an octopus is not doing well, stuff that there’s no test for. You have to be able to notice that on your own. Unfortunately, I hear a lot of stories about people not taking care of their octopus. They see it in a store, think it’s cool and impulsively buy it, and then two days later it’s dead because that just doesn’t work with octopuses.
“When I first got Birdie, I would spend 2 to 3 hours a day in front of the tank just doing things like drinking coffee, eating or any type of activity just so she could get used to my presence, and I still spend about an hour-90 minutes to play with her, feed her or see what she’s doing. I still love it. I’m still constantly learning from her, and I feel like the majority of what makes octopuses fascinating you can’t read about. Unless you truly interact, observe and deal with one on a daily basis, you’re not able to grasp what these creatures are.
“Before I had an octopus, I used to eat calamari, I used to go fishing, but now I’m a total advocate that you shouldn’t eat octopuses. It’s like eating something that has feelings and is able to understand what you’re doing. I mean, you wouldn’t get a dog, raise it, and a year later be like, ‘OK, now you’re dinner!’ They actually have the ability to perceive what’s going on. Birdie, I feel like she loves me. When I come home, my dogs are there wagging their tails, and Birdie is at the top of her tank waiting for me to walk over. She gets excited when I see her. It’s just amazing to be able to observe what she can do and what she’s capable of.”
Interviewed by Ian J. Stark