• Looking to buy a cephalopod? Check out Tomh's Cephs Forum, and this post in particular shares important info about our policies as it relates to responsible ceph-keeping.

Ethical Considerations for Keeping Octopus in Captivity

cthulhu77

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O.K., most of you know my viewpoint on the keeping of cephalopods in captivity, and while it got me into trouble last year, I promise to keep this discussion civil.

How do you feel about the ethics of keeping captive cephalopods in an artificial environment?
Do you think that it brings about more knowledge than it causes harm, thereby making it justifiable?

I do keep, and have kept, captive cephalopods, and have never felt bad about it. The take of wild animals in a stable population has been proven time after time to not negatively harm the wild population.

But.

In the case of some of these animals, are we perhaps removing too many, too quickly in the supposed pursuit of "science" ?
I sometimes feel that we are on a slippery slope here, and while all of this excitement about bringing the wonders of the ceph world to the general public is cresting, are we at the same time dooming a lot of the animals we are supposed to be caring about to a nasty and untimely death?

Responsibility. That is what it boils down to.
 

tonmo

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Greg, I'm really glad you started this thread! There is a real delicate balance on this from my view, and I'm eager to put in my own 2 cents, which may indeed be its top value!

Firstly, as most of you know I have never kept a ceph, not even a tank (fresh or salt). I am definitely interested in one day owning a saltwater tank, and perhaps one day maybe even get a ceph if I feel strongly that I am up to the task.

I'll try to be real direct and to the point: I feel that cephs should only be kept by people who are 1) prioritizing the health of the ceph, 2) sharing learnings with "the community" (i.e., other ceph keepers, and I'd argue TONMO.com is the best place to do that), and 3) fully capable and responsible (as you say Greg) to do the job right. That involves months of research, patiently cycling a tank, and doing all research necessary to ensure the right conditions are met for the ceph.

I cringe at the thought of people jumping in to say "man octopuses are so cool -- I want one! Wait until the guys at school find out that I have an octopus as a pet!" Screw that. If you're going to keep a ceph, I say, you'd better journal it, study it, care for it as if you were the ceph yourself, and share your learnings and photos on TONMO.com for all to see and learn.

Responsibility, seconded!
 

DHyslop

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This is a great topic.

I think all of us would agree there's nothing inherently immoral about keeping animals captive as long as reasonable measures are taken in good faith to give the animal a good enclosure and a healthy, fulfilling life. The world is fraught with examples of this being stretched, even at some public aquariums (and, good lord, most zoos).

I've had no fewer than four bimacs die prematurely in my care (or while being shipped to me). I know that my system is healthy and has successfully kept cephs in the past; but some part of me has wondered if I'm needlessly dooming creatures to their untimely end. From a rational perspective, however, if Zyan's brood of eggs were lain in nature it is likely only one or two individual fry would survive to maturity! What's more, it is not judged immoral by the State of California to catch these animals, asphyxiate and eat them. If we step outside our microcosm to view this in the greater context of how these animals live in nature and interact with man in other, generally agreed-upon ways; it doesn't matter too much if I am a mass-murderer of cephs. In fact this logic would suggest that keeping octopuses is a good thing because it allows dozens of animals to live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives than they otherwise would--particularly being fed to stomatopods! :smile:

Most of us would fail to disagree with that sentiment. Thus, I think the subtext of Greg's post is a certain wonderpus that's out looking for the nu-cle-ar wessels in Ala-me-da. We all agree that buying these animals is immoral and we pretty much agree that trying to rescue them is too. I think most of us approve of Rich obtaining one for Dr. Roy to study in a scientific lab. I can't speak for Greg (and he clearly doesn't have any trouble speaking for himself :smile:), but I suspect he draws a line because Fontanelle isn't being kept for rigorous science or peer-reviewed publication. I think the question is subtley asked whether Rich, despite being a professional, experienced and mature ceph-keeper has succumb to the exotic and beautiful nature of the animal in the same way that many less-responsible, less-experienced aquarists have. I make no accusation or judgment, I merely think its the basic question that underlies the wonderpus topic, and knowledge of this question is why Rich seemed apprehensive of keeping the animal in the first place.

Well, I hope my wall-of-text is up to Monty's standard! :wink: Thoughts?
 
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You could compare this to the practice of keeping many animals in captivity for human enjoyment or for science. Unlike many exotic terrestrial animals, (which are probably off in their own ethics catagory) cephalopods and other marine critters are delicate and can be known to suffer a high mortality rate. So, really, it's not a 1 to 1 transfer rate of catch one in the wild, bring one into captivity. I dont know what it is... probably some of you have heard numbers thown out there.

Hmm so i would say, if you must keep a cephalopod, try your best to get a captive bred one or offer some support to anyone wishing to start a breeding program. But there aren't many options for those these days, right? I dont follow the octopus sources.

The TONMO community seems to to a good job of telling anyone who watched a tv show and decides they want something rare and flashy to leave them to the experts. People should minimize their impact by leaving the flashy flamboyants, mimics, blue rings to science. Heck, they'd do best to leave nautilus alone too. I'd certainly never want one of those. But I've never kept an octopus of my very own (just taken care of them).

At some point i'll revive my aquariums. Probably after next May. Then i am SO running out and buying uh... a serval! And uh.... a chinchilla. yeah. because i saw it on TV. :lol:

a cat is enough for me actually.
 

cthulhu77

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Interesting thoughts, and all worthy of consideration. This was not a thread about Thale's recent new addition at all, in fact, if there was any one of us capable of keeping an esoteric animal at all, it would be him. I do however, question the validity of trying to keep some animals in captivity.

If you buy an animal, even a human, for the reason that "If I don't buy it, someone else with less skill will", you are still telling the retailer that he made a profit. Then, the wholesaler will order more to make a profit, and the shipper will order even more from the collector.

About 60% of the imported animals die in transit. An additional 20-30% die after acclimation.


1 live octopus= about 20 dead octopus.

The only way to stop the collection is to make them non-desirable to the consumer. We have to stop pretending we live in Victorian England, where the world is our oyster, and everything is there for the taking.
 

Architeuthoceras

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What better than a brightly colored fish on a billboard... a brightly colored octopus. Seems whether someone buys it or not the sign (or a live octopus in the window) will still attract someone to the store.
 

Thales

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cthulhu77;88369 said:
How do you feel about the ethics of keeping captive cephalopods in an artificial environment?
Do you think that it brings about more knowledge than it causes harm, thereby making it justifiable?

In the vast amount of cases, both ceph and other marine aquaria, I don't think it has anything to do with bringing about knowledge, I think its about people getting pleasure from keeping the animals. Is that justifiable? That seems up to the individual.

In the case of some of these animals, are we perhaps removing too many, too quickly in the supposed pursuit of "science" ?

Perhaps. My understanding of the upswing in 'zebra' sales in my area is that it was at least partially driven by the scientific community. I have been told by local wholesalers and LFS that researchers were asking for the 'zebras' so when they see/saw them on lists they get/got ordered and were actively collected. This has led to them ordering any ceph as well.
It seems a shame, but my understanding is that obtaining animals commercially is far easier and less expensive than going through 'science channels'. More science funding!
I am not actively pursuing flamboyants because in the states there currently isn't a market, and I don't want to be the one that starts it.

I sometimes feel that we are on a slippery slope here, and while all of this excitement about bringing the wonders of the ceph world to the general public is cresting, are we at the same time dooming a lot of the animals we are supposed to be caring about to a nasty and untimely death?

Responsibility. That is what it boils down to.

It isn't just cephs, but the entire Marine Ornamental industry/hobby. There is an incredible amount of death at all levels of the industry/hobby (though I think getting an accurate percentage is impossible) and I think that being involved in any way at all helps support that death. I wouldn't be all the surprised to find myself getting out of it completely at some point.
I think the responsible thing to do would be to spend time and effort changing the industry, because it isn't going to change itself. I have started to create an NPO, but don't know if I have the stomach for it.
My experience at the collector/exporter level and at the wholesale/retail level has left me feeling like Sisyphus.
 

tonmo

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cthulhu77;88377 said:
About 60% of the imported animals die in transit. An additional 20-30% die after acclimation.

1 live octopus= about 20 dead octopus.
Greg -- what can we do to improve this stat? I don't believe we (as a community) have done enough to lift the hood on this process -- if anyone would be well-positioned to analyze the process and suggest improvements it would be us. We could even lobby via the proper channels to get some regulations in place. A lofty goal for sure, but if not us, who?

Can someone walk me through the ways in which an octopus gets into an LFS? And highlight what we'd consider to be the "preferred" method? Might make a good sticky note or article.
 

Thales

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cthulhu77;88377 said:
Interesting thoughts, and all worthy of consideration. This was not a thread about Thale's recent new addition at all, in fact, if there was any one of us capable of keeping an esoteric animal at all, it would be him.

Thanks. That's nice and a little scary. :biggrin2:
FWIW, I didn't at all see this as being about my recent addition. This topic is incredibly interesting to me, and I am glad you started it. In the reefing world, most people don't want any part of this discussion.

I do however, question the validity of trying to keep some animals in captivity.

Me too. Unsustainable collection being the biggest fear.

If you buy an animal, even a human, for the reason that "If I don't buy it, someone else with less skill will", you are still telling the retailer that he made a profit. Then, the wholesaler will order more to make a profit, and the shipper will order even more from the collector.

Absolutely. At the same time, I don't think individuals boycotting animals makes much of a difference once the the demand or perceived demand is there. Once the train stops it keeps feeding itself, and, sadly, at that point I think legislation is the only thing that can make a difference.

About 60% of the imported animals die in transit. An additional 20-30% die after acclimation.

1 live octopus= about 20 dead octopus.

That seems high to me. I don't think the industry could stay in business at a 90% DOA/DAA rate, or even a 50% DOA/DAA RATE. None the less, the amount of death can be staggering.

The only way to stop the collection is to make them non-desirable to the consumer. We have to stop pretending we live in Victorian England, where the world is our oyster, and everything is there for the taking.

Absolutely. Since cephs are hard to breed, I think high expense can make them undesirable because end users aren't thinking they can jump on the gravy train by selling offspring.
 

Thales

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tonmo;88385 said:
Greg -- what can we do to improve this stat? I don't believe we (as a community) have done enough to lift the hood on this process -- if anyone would be well-positioned to analyze the process and suggest improvements it would be us. We could even lobby via the proper channels to get some regulations in place. A lofty goal for sure, but if not us, who?

This is a massive undertaking and involves international law and the reigning in of a system that hasn't really changed for 30 years. Organizations like the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) are making efforts, but so far are still in their infancy. For more information, browse the Industry Behind the Hobby forum at www.reefs.org .

Most of the improvements to make a difference are known, but cost money. At the present, may feel the cost is not worth it. Grr.

Can someone walk me through the ways in which an octopus gets into an LFS? And highlight what we'd consider to be the "preferred" method? Might make a good sticky note or article.

The octopus is caught by a collector, and then transferred to a holding facility. In some places the holding facility is close, in others it is very far away. Depending on where the collection is being done, the animals is packed on site for export, or has to make another trip to the exporters.
Once bagged and packed, the animal is then delivered to the airport and flow to the importer. This can take anywhere from 8 -60 hours depending on the location of the exporter and the importer.
In the US, the animals being imported have to clear customs and inspection by Fish and Wildlife. Once that is done, the animals are driven to the wholesalers, when they are tanked. Local stores browse the wholesaler (a fish store for fish stores) and the animals are bagged and driven to the store. Non local stores place orders and the animal is shipped out in the same manner as it was for export, but the flight times are shorter.

In the case of cephs, improvements include smart collecting (not hurting the animal) and shipping with lots and lots of water. Both end up costing money.

I think the saddest thing is that marine ornamentals is a volume industry, which doesn't work out for the living things that make up the volume.

Here is a link to a video I did for a Tongan collection station that was trying to do things the right way. It may shed some light on the process. When I get around to it, I will add the footage of packing and receiving shipments and make it more of a documentary than a promotional piece.
http://stickycricket.com/movies/tonga_promo.html
 

robyn

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Massive and rambling post - apologies in advance!!

To my mind there are 2 related issues of ethics here - firstly, an ethical responsibility of the 'collection-impact' of the captured animal, regarding its right to adequate and compensatory care, and secondly, a responsibility to the remaining wild population, regarding the impact of collection on the wider ecology of the system whence the collected individual came. Of course they are interrelated, but I think some different issues affect each of these.

Let me go on a bit here: For the captured individual, there must be some compensation for loss-of-liberty (if I can anthropomorphise 'rights'). The use of the animal to me is not particualy relevant to this factor - an animal in a domestic aquarium providing entertainment value to teenagers or one in research institution require the same things - a clean environment, stimulation that compensates for tank-boredom, adequate care and maintenance, and some sort of right to minimised pain and suffering. These needs apply irrespective of the species involved and the purpose of the animals' captivity.

The second issue is the ethics of collection that apply to the source population of the animals. This to me is a far more tangled issue, and is highly dependent on the species of animals involved - collection of adults is more costly to k-selected (long-lived, delayed repro) animals like nautiliuses, particularly when combined with limited knowledge of population ecology. R-selected species (short-lived, single repoduction event) like many octo species, are more vulnerable to juvenile and egg mortality, but with short-lived species obviously the younger individuals are most desirable to collectors.

The problem is compounded by the need for additional knowledge of such poorly understood populations - how can we learn to conserve and understand marine species without some form of ex-situ research, while avoiding over-exploitation? Of course, not all cephs are endangered, but we know so little about many of them that trying to learn more about them can cause damage in and of itself. This is a difficult issue and I don't have any really good answers to it.

Since I work with Nautiluses (which are probably 'threatened' or 'vulnerable', at least in some areas), I butt up against these issues quite alot, either when I'm talking about my research to other scientists, or when I start feeling guilty about keeping my animals. I'm not sure how I feel about it all, hence the rather rambling nature of this post!!

So I do my best to give my animals the best care I can, and make sure every single experiment we do is designed with a primary objective of minimising the number of individuals we need to use. On the broader scale, I buy my guys from an excellent vendor with a supply-chain I know, and do my best to share everything I have learnt about Nautiluses with anyone who cares to listen...I think if most people who keep cephs do similarly, everybody wins.

Although I'm still not sure.... Great discussion thread, by the way! I am new here and have learnt lots from visiting.
 

tonmo

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Thanks Thales - very helpful and thanks for the resources. I am up for doing something in this space on behalf of the community; I'll dig in a bit. My bottom line is that I do support keeping of cephs in a responsible manner. I believe in the long run the more we can understand these creatures, the better. Keeping them a "mystery" doesn't jibe with my perception of we humans being a good, ambitious species eager to understand as much as possible about the world we live in and the creatures we co-exist with, with the general intent of making things better. So it seems appropriate that we examine the process by which folks obtain these cephs, and improve on that first to make sure it's humane and efficient.
 
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i always come back to the inspiring quote by the senegal poet baba dioum- "In the end, we conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught." please continue to teach everyone you can everything you know about octopuses. that is my religion. i try to tell everybody about these critters in the hope that we can save them. by owning them and learning about their needs and sharing that knowledge, well... that is the mission of tonmo. and of course, it all starts with responsibility. every day people and friends come by to see the octopuses, none of them wants to keep them- it is a big undertaking. most of the commercial websites mention that octos are for experts only, but first hand knowledge is indispensible. fortunately hobbyists often make valuable contributions to the understanding of animals like these as captive husbandry issues are unraveled. somebody mentioned the case of sps corals that only afew years ago were thought impossible to maintain now are easily captive aquacutured...hopefully this will take the pressure off the native ecosystems. i'm going to do the right thing and remain optimistic. as winston churchill said- "i am a optimist. it does not seem too much use being anything else." zyan
 
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tonmo;88385 said:
Greg -- what can we do to improve this stat? I don't believe we (as a community) have done enough to lift the hood on this process -- if anyone would be well-positioned to analyze the process and suggest improvements it would be us. We could even lobby via the proper channels to get some regulations in place. A lofty goal for sure, but if not us, who?

Can someone walk me through the ways in which an octopus gets into an LFS? And highlight what we'd consider to be the "preferred" method? Might make a good sticky note or article.

From a conservation point of view, I would like to see an attempt to estimate some annual stats on how many individuals are removed from given areas for the aquarium trade. Wooo that would be an undertaking.

Seems like that would be a logical first step in judging the impact of the aquarium trade and what sort of change we should try to enact.
 
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