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Ethics of octopi in captivity?

Joined
Jul 21, 2011
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neurobadger;180073 said:
Hi! Ethics roundtable moderator here.

What we'll be talking about at TONMOCON is the captivity of cephalopods in three spheres: research, public aquaria, and private homes (through the composition of the panel, which comprises a member from academia - gjbarord - a member from public aquaria - Thales - and a member from private cephkeeping - corw314), and also important issues such as current laws regarding cephalopods kept in public spaces such as research and aquaria and issues surrounding animal welfare provision for them, their capacity for pain and suffering, and continuing the discussion about how ethical it is to keep them in the first place and what might be 'ethical keeping' and what might not be 'ethical keeping'.

I'm from Montreal! I'm almost sure I'll go to the convention to learn more about it! :smile:
 
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Jul 21, 2011
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Thales;180072 said:
What does 'ethical' mean to you?

I think I was humanizing octopus too much, is not like they can literally "think": oh I'm living in captivity!
That requires a brain like ours.

So, after reading several threads I think "ethical" means making an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible (including live food), I also read many posts commenting about giving toys to them so they don't get bored which I found that it was a fabulous idea :smile:
 

gjbarord

Sepia elegans
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No matter what so-called "intelligence" level an animal has, I think it is unethical to keep any animal in poor conditions from cockroach to octopus. Going to be a great panel at TONMOCON!!

Greg
 

CaptFish

Colossal Squid
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So, after reading several threads I think "ethical" means making an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible (including live food), I also read many posts commenting about giving toys to them so they don't get bored which I found that it was a fabulous idea :smile:

:thumbsup: I like it. Sounds good, the only thing I would add is: not keeping species with questionable and or limited population, we don't want to collect any species into extinction, and make sure to keep the species in a tank that is the proper size.
 

DWhatley

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I like the answers and don't have much to add except that you must expect a yes answer in a yes/no poll from anyone keeping an cephalop. Pretty much by definition, people don't do things they truly believe to be unethical and most active members are cephalopod keepers. Additionally, most keepers are here to find the best ways to successfully keep the animals in their care.
 

Tintenfisch

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A couple other aspects of 'ethical' might be:

- 'Is it an ethical use of electricity to maintain an artificial marine habitat at home?' ... I actually ask myself this one on a regular basis, looking at my tropical freshwater tank with filter, air pump, heater and light, three of which run constantly. It makes me increasingly uncomfortable, especially with discussions of improving energy efficiency and clean energy sources (and, I confess, electricity costs), but so far I haven't broken it down because of the flip-side, which is, 'What happens to my animals, which appear to be healthy and happy (to the point of reproducing), if/when I do terminate the system and they go to new homes?'
- 'Is it ethical to support the suppliers who provide my equipment/animals? (perhaps depending on where you live and your ability to self-source materials/organisms)

I look forward very much to hearing about the ethics debate. Any chance of live-streaming some of the panels for those of us far, far away, Tony?

On the intelligence theme, I am currently reviewing a Master's thesis on the topic, which is quite interesting. I will try to encourage the student to make the content available to interested readers here somehow, if possible.
 

Thales

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Good stuff Kat! I think it all hinges on what we mean by Ethical, and how far we want to push that sphere of consideration. Its not very difficult at all to see the entire current and traditional chain of custody that gets animals to end users as unethical in a meaningful way.
 
Joined
Sep 25, 2006
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In the introduction of M.J. Wells' book Octopus: Physiology and Behaviour of an Advanced Invertebrate, he warns against the temptation for humans to make assumptions about the feelings or motives of octopus, and of likening octopus to humans. He points out that octopus and humans diverged from each other on the evolutionary tree so long ago, that any aparent similarities, like intelligence, are a coincidence, and should not be used to infer other similarities, like the ability to experience anything similar to human loneliness, boredom, social bonding (friendship), affection, or even hunger. He supports this by pointing out that octopus are not raised in a social context (family, tribe), but grow up alone, and may eat another of their species they happen to meet, as easily mate with it, and refuse available food for months after laying eggs, for no visible reason. That's not to say that octopus necessarily don't experience boredom, for example, just that we must not infer that they do, based on the fact the humans, and other relatively closely related animals (dogs, apes) would, under similar conditions. We are left to guess at their feelings, assuming they have any at all. Notwithstanding the idiom "happy as a clam", do unintelligent mollusks have feelings?

The bottom line is, that it is folly to try to guess what an octopus is feeling, but even so, we are morally obligated as animal keepers to make every effort to keep the animals under our care from suffering. I'm willing to believe that any animal that displays curiosity, and is motivated to explore and experiment, has some sort of negative response built in by evolution when it is unable to do so (for humans it's boredom). That's a leap of faith, but I'd rather err on the compassionate side. Is it "cruel" to confine an octopus, even if it has a reasonably large tank, and daily stimulation/interaction (enrichment)? As far as I'm concerned, there's no way of knowing. Does it enrich my life to do so - definitely yes. I'm not willing to forgo what I get out of keeping an octopus, just because of the chance that maybe the octopus is bored. I take reasonable steps to address the boredom issue, and in the absence of any evidence of suffering (constant escape attempts, chewed off limbs, alcohol abuse :smile:) I'm able to conclude that my octopus would rather be in my tank than in the ocean hiding from predators. I have to admit that there's a chance that my octopus is suffering, and that I simply can't tell, but that's a chance I'm willing to take.
 

DWhatley

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As far as not "assuming" enjoyment, I will take exception. If an animal willingly comes forward for nonaggressive interaction with same or another species when food is not part of the interaction, IMO it highly likely that the animal finds the interaction positive. I will agree that mental pain is not something we are likely to isolate easily.
 

R138

Hatchling
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Jul 26, 2011
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No. It is not ethically ok to keep an octopus in captivity. They are highly intelligent wild animals. They belong free. It is selfish and cruel to imprison them for our amusement. To love an octopus is to let it be free. Otherwise, we are nothing more than their wardens.
 

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