Ethical Considerations for Keeping Octopus in Captivity

Discussion in 'Ceph Care Ethics' started by cthulhu77, Feb 24, 2007.

  1. cthulhu77

    cthulhu77 Titanites Supporter

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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.
     
  2. tonmo

    tonmo Titanites Staff Member Webmaster Moderator

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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!
     
  3. DHyslop

    DHyslop Architeuthis Supporter

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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! :)

    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 :)), 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! ;) Thoughts?
     
  4. fluffysquid

    fluffysquid Vampyroteuthis Registered

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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.
     
  5. cthulhu77

    cthulhu77 Titanites Supporter

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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.
     
  6. Architeuthoceras

    Architeuthoceras Architeuthis Staff Member Moderator

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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.
     
  7. Thales

    Thales Colossal Squid Staff Member Moderator

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    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.

    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.

    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.
     
  8. fluffysquid

    fluffysquid Vampyroteuthis Registered

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    yes, that's the number i was getting at. and it's lot higher than I thought it would be!
     
  9. tonmo

    tonmo Titanites Staff Member Webmaster Moderator

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    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.
     
  10. Thales

    Thales Colossal Squid Staff Member Moderator

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    Thanks. That's nice and a little scary. :grin:
    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.

    Me too. Unsustainable collection being the biggest fear.

    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.

    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.

    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.
     
  11. Thales

    Thales Colossal Squid Staff Member Moderator

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    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.

    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
     
  12. robyn

    robyn Vampyroteuthis Supporter

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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.
     
  13. tonmo

    tonmo Titanites Staff Member Webmaster Moderator

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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.
     
  14. zyan silver

    zyan silver O. bimaculoides Registered

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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
     
  15. fluffysquid

    fluffysquid Vampyroteuthis Registered

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    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.
     
  16. Thales

    Thales Colossal Squid Staff Member Moderator

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    An important thing to remember is that there are lots and lots of different collection stations and they are often not connected to other stations. So, each station needs to be 'educated' about best practices. The cephs that came in last week were packed very well, and I think the ceph mortality (4 of 10 cuttles DOA, 1 more DAA, and 1 'common' occy out of 6 and no 'zebras' out of 2) was because the shipment was delayed - a 30-40 hour trip turned into a 60 hour trip.
    Some of the smaller collecting stations are figuring out if they take better care of the animals, they get more repeat business.
     
  17. sorseress

    sorseress Colossal Squid Supporter

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    Thales, do you know any stats on how long it takes to clear customs and fish and wildlife? How many hours that adds to the packing, shipping etc. time?
     
  18. Neogonodactylus

    Neogonodactylus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    Let me comment as someone who formally studies octopus and who has photographed Wunderpus in its natural habitat and who has purchased two from wholesalers. Members of my lab have also photographed and filmed the mimic in Indonesia although the only ones I have seen were in the trade. If I want to study the behavior and life history of these species, I have to have a permit from the host country. They are very difficult to obtain and it can take months or even years to do so. Even if I have a research permit, if I want to bring the animals back to the lab in Berkeley, I would need an export permit (again difficult to obtain) and be able to figure out a way to transport them. (Not being able to carry them on board is causing serious problems for those of us who relied on using this method to safely transport live specimens.) The bottom line is if I could get a permit (currently unlikeley), it would cost me in excess of $4,000 (conservative estimate) to travel to Indonesia, obtain the services of a dive boat, pay for the expenses of an Indonesian colleague to work with me (probably necessary as part of the permitting process), and transport the animal back to the U.S. Even if I could obtain a permit to collect 4 (unlikely), that puts them at over $1,000 each and it is unlikely that they would all make it back alive. Very few biologists are going to be collecting and bringing back live zebra octopus.

    Also, there is very little to be gained studying the behavior of these species in a laboratory or aquarium setting. The animals are stressed, the habitat is not at all similar to that in which they live, it is difficult to obtain two to obsever interactions, etc. While there are several species of octopus that we can and do study in the lab, zebras are not on that list. In my opinion, most useful behavioral information can only be obtained in the field. (The only exception is that we have learned a bit about their brooding behavior and early paralarvae which would have been difficult in the field. And even here, once it has been observed and recorded, there is little need to repeat the observations.)

    So why did I purchase two from wholesalers? This was a few years ago when we did not have information on reproductive behavior and I was hoping to see brooding. Also there were very few specimens in the hands of museums, the species were still to be described, and we needed fresh (non-formalin) material for molecular studies to determine their relationship to other octopus. (This still has not been properly worked out.)

    Once these octopus have been collected and removed from their home environment, they have zero fitness - they are evolutionarily dead. That makes it easy for many people to rationalize buying them because they will die anyway and won't contribute to their population. The sad fact is that if we pay a high price for them and allow the collectors, wholesalers, and store owners to make a profit on them, they will continue to be collected. When I purchased the two animals, at the time I made it clear that I did not want any more ordered for me. I will no long obtain these animals in the name of science. I have preserved specimens which have been deposited in museums and I have their DNA. There is nothing else I want them for in Berkeley and I certainly hope that in the future there are still zebras in Indonesia that I can properly study in the field. That is where they belong and that is where we can learn the most from them.

    Roy
     
  19. Thales

    Thales Colossal Squid Staff Member Moderator

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    All of that depends on the how long before the flight the local airport wants the shipment, and how long it takes the wildlife and and customs to clear the shipment. Sometimes customs and fish and game are backed up and it can take hours and hours. Usually, it adds an hour or two.
     
  20. monty

    monty Colossal Squid Staff Member Supporter

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    I agree with Robyn that it's important to consider the ethics separately for the cases of the individual animals and the wild population as a whole. Much of TONMO's hobbyist advice is aimed at encouraging ceph-keepers to be as well-educated and responsible for the well-being of their pets, and I think, unless we take the stand that they shouldn't be kept at all, that's something we're doing quite well.

    It seems like the other case, the impact of collection on the wild population, is a whole other kettle of fish, so to speak. There are a lot of components to this being tossed out in this discussion, ranging from economics to transportation logistics to collection priorities to importing to regulation.... ultimately, these are probably the main areas in which we could affect change somehow, although how is not clear.

    Robyn touched on something that seems key, though: the impact that collection has on the wild population depends heavily on the life cycle of the animal. It also, of course, depends on a lot of factors in the wild, such as its habitat and how easy it is for collectors to capture a large fraction of the population. Some animals are so easy to collect, because their natural defenses are not at all well suited to avoiding human assault, that they can be over-collected with ease-- I put seahorses in this category, since their main defenses are to hide among plants and to have armor and generally not be a good meal, but neither of these protect against major netting efforts. (When they're to be sold dried as a medicinal product, it's even easier to collect them).

    In the case of cephs, it's rather hard to assess the impact of collection on the adult population. Coleoids seems to generally share the reproductive strategy of producing very large clutches of eggs and (para)larvae, but to have relatively little chance of each baby reaching sexual maturity and reproducing. I'm not sure how to assign even back-of-the-envelope numbers to this: it means that the population can theoretically bounce back rapidly from a small population to a large one, particularly since they have a short lifetime to reproductive age. However, it also means that removing adults or near-adults from the breeding population can have a very rapid impact on the reproductive capacity of the whole species, and also narrows the gene pool. One thing I'm pretty sure it means is that collection of hatchlings is much less likely to have an impact on the wild population than collection of adults, since the survival rate for a hatchling is very low anyway... it also arguably(?) offsets the cruelty of pulling the animal from its natural environment when its natural environment is full of nasty hazards, so it would give it more of a chance at a long and non-traumatic life.

    I don't know that it's at all practical to somehow encourage collectors to collect paralarvae instead of adults, and of course they'd have to be raised for a while before sale, but I bet they're easier to ship.

    In a completely tangential thought, I wonder if this reproductive strategy was part of why Coleoids survived mass extinctions that wiped out all other ceph populations, in that a few octopus-ancestors that had some particular mutation that helped handle the environmental conditions leading to the mass extinction could have expanded to fill niches left by other animals that weren't able to handle the changes.

    Anyway, I know Eric Hochberg advised the California Fish & Game regulators to forbid bimac collection for the hobby trade because he believed that it would be easy for heavy collection to wipe out the breeding population of bimacs in the wild. I infer, at least, that a lot of you with experience in this area are concerned about that in the case of the "zebras" as well. Of course, this also ties into the discussion elsewhere about how overfishing of terminal-spawning squids is likely to impact their populations differently than overfishing of animals that have different reproductive strategies and timelines.

    I've noticed, though, that several of the other animals that have been brought up recently (particularly Tasmanian Tigers and Hog Island Boas) seem like they have very different life and reproductive cycles than the cephs... Fish are closer in some ways, but I don't know enough about their details. Assessing how the animal's actual lifecycle will interact with various pressures, whether they be overfishing/overcollection, habitat destruction, water temperature changes, invasive species, or any of a number of other things is a very complicated problem. Of course, it's generally better to err on the side of caution, since it's not always easy to tell what impact these things are having on a population until it's an irreversible problem, but it seems worthwhile to look for as many answers as possible along the way, lest the conservation strategy turn out to be a case of "the cure is worse than the disease," or just putting a lot of effort into addressing one part of the problem, when the highest impact on the species' survival might be in some other area.

    :twocents: from me, is that sufficient to maintain my reputation for "walls of text," Dan? (I considered trying out e e cummings formatting for this post, but old habits die hard)
     

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