How do we know if captive cephs are happy?

Discussion in 'Ceph Care Ethics' started by um0123, May 13, 2015.

  1. um0123

    um0123 Pygmy Octopus Registered

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    I was telling my friend today that i was starting research on how to set up an octo tank and care for a ceph. She immediately got defensive saying that i shouldn't. Her argument is that keeping an octopus (or any other live animal, which she later changed to "smart" animal) in a tank instead of the ocean is not right because we have no idea whether they are okay and happy with being captive.

    I told her that any cephs are given plenty of tank space (i mentioned 50 gallon absolute minimum for smallest octo) and she said "yeah but thats only 50 gallons compared to what they would experince in the ocean."

    I kept telling her that we have lots of indicators of happy cephs like the span of their life and their activity and she kept saying that all those indicators still can't make us certain whether or not they are happy being captive. In addition she said that the span of their life doesn't mean they "enjoyed" their life as they could have in the ocean,

    To which I spoke about how they may be smart but do not operate on the same level as humans. I told her she was giving them too much humanity and how even though they are smart it's not as if they "long for the ocean" or stuff like that. They may be good problem solvers and tool users but it's not as if they think existentially.

    At this point it was no point in continuing to talk. She raised her voice and said "why can't they have humanity!" and i was done. She is a really smart person, but when she gets worked up she just raises her voice and acts contrarian so she isn't even processing what i was telling her. I ended it with "If you are going to just disregard any scientific, reproducible indicators of the octo enjoying its habitat just as much as it would in the ocean such as the length of its life, its activeness, its sociability, and so on then you clearly have no respect for any scientific achievement by animal behavioralists in the past hundred years."

    Later in the night I continued by telling her that by the same logic she used earlier, we can't know if any animal is okay being with the person that cares for them but she wasn't listening.

    My question is this: How can we know for sure whether or not captive. My friend and I are both Physicists/Electrical Engineers, so we aren't dumb but neither of us know super much about animal behavior. I have done some reading on cephs but she kept using the argument that "we can't know for sure." I know that we have some amazing biologists here on Tonmo. So can any answer this question?
     
  2. DarkwingedDuck

    DarkwingedDuck Blue Ring Registered

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    As a biologist studying behaviour, the first thing to accept that we can NEVER know what an animal is thinking. I keep cephs for research purposes and always have the impression that they might be "happier" or more comfortable in their natural environment...but that is just speculation. There are no "scientific reproducible indicators" that an animal is happier in one environment in comparison to another. Science simply has no way of answering that question. There are factors, such as no predatory threat in an aquarium, no competition, no lack of a food source, that one could argue would make an animal "happier" in a tank. But there are other factors such as free range, social interaction, mate choice, habitat choice, diel cycles, diet choice, etc found in the wild and could suggest that the animal would be "happier" there. All we can tell really though is what makes an animal better suited to survive and reproduce as well as how these behaviours may change from one environment to another...but not how these changes in behaviours make the animal feel or really what they mean to the individual animal.

    I agree with your friend that the span of their life has nothing to do with how much they enjoyed it. You could keep me in a room and feed me an abundance of organic food, make me run on a treadmill every day and provide me with medical care...I'd probably live longer...doesn't mean I'd be happier. You make claims that they don't "long for the ocean" or "think existentially" but that is just your uneducated guess (or educated..but regardless, a guess).

    When you used her logic against her by saying "we can't tell if any animal is okay with the person that cares for them" that is actually true. I believe that a dog is probably happy with it's owner...I'd bet my bottom dollar on it...but there is no way to prove it. It could be some sort of dependency or social hierarchy or a number of things. You cannot state what an animal's mood is, or what it is thinking...period.

    So I'd have to say that she is correct. You simply don't know, and to say that you do is not only not scientific, it is arrogant. I don't mean to offend you, so sorry if I have...now I will provide my opinion rather than what science can tell us: I think that if an octopus is kept in a tank of adequate size, provided with enough habitat and "toys" as well as a variety of food (and perhaps a mate?)...it can be perfectly comfortable. Though, wild caught animals I feel DO have a longing to return to the ocean...while those raised from eggs probably think that their little tank is all there is to the world and are just fine with that. Who knows...
     
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  3. um0123

    um0123 Pygmy Octopus Registered

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    Good answer, and you didn't offend me. I 100% understand her argument, but it is an unprovable one. The same way we cannot "know" for fact that god(s) exist. So if we can never say anything about the behavior and mood about animals for a fact why do we have biologists specializing in different species behavior? How can we ever say anything about how an animal feels about something if we can't ever be inside their head? We know that when a dog bears its teeth and growls it is probably angry, but we don't "know" that. I only am trying to make a statement that we can have ideas of what an animal (like an octopus) is feeling from known indicators.

    Of course its just a guess, i have never even taken biology past high school. But i'm basing my argument off the fact that animal behavioralists DO EXIST. So there must be some substance to the science.
     
  4. DarkwingedDuck

    DarkwingedDuck Blue Ring Registered

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    We as biologist never do say what an animal feels. We say what behaviours we observe, why they MAY be displaying these behaviours, and sometimes what these behaviours may potentially imply in the interactions with other animals both of the species and of other species in the wild. If you can agree that her argument is unprovable, then you must agree that yours is also unprovable. From your first post, it seemed that her argument was in fact that the mental state of the animal was unprovable and therefore, since it is unknown...we should not assume them to be happy just because it makes us sleep better at night when we hold them captive.

    I know that animal behaviouralist do exist...I'm one of them. But we don't use their behaviours to read their minds. We use it in understanding what causes certain behaviours and how certain behaviours benefit or result in consequences to the animal. First rule of behaviour studies is: We never know what an animal is thinking. I think your friend is saying that because of the first rule of behaviour studies...you shouldn't make an animal captive due to the existing chance that it isn't happy.

    Also, yes I'd agree that a dog is probably angry when it growls and bears teeth...but it could easily also be angry when it is NOT growling or bearing teeth but is rather sitting on the sidewalk quite placidly...see what I mean? I'd like to also reiterate that I myself hold captive cephalopods for research purposes...I don't think I'm evil for it...but you'll never catch me saying "Oh, they love it in my lab aquaria!"
     
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  5. tonmo

    tonmo Titanites Staff Member Webmaster Moderator

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    This is a good, important discussion. I get a lot of this on the TONMO FB page, and sometimes here, as you can imagine.

    We've discussed this a lot. One of our staffers, @cthulhu77 (who passed away last year) had evolved his position. He was once an avid ceph keeper, but evolved to being against it on principle. He eventually chose to leave staff.
    This. Both are unprovable. Personally, I land here:
    - don't keep a ceph if you aren't 100% committed to doing it "right". No short cuts, and don't keep one for selfish purposes. (Note I have never owned a tank for this reason)
    - document your learnings, and share them. This is a major purpose of TONMO's existence. Provide community support for those who make the effort, to increase our own skill sets and understandings of these amazing creatures.

    Fwiw, I believe that a ceph in a home tank can be quite "happy" if its needs are met, it is "stimulated" in a healthy way, and is generally cared for with sincerity.

    The downside of NOT keeping cephs is that we left without an opportunity to learn more about these creatures first hand, in an intimate way. And the downside of not documenting is that our learnings remain isolated. This is why TONMO is a pretty important place IMO!

    I have recently taken up snorkeling :snorkel: but have yet to see a ceph. That's a mission. I won't touch, only see. I'm generally against divers and snorkelers touching what they see. Ocean life should indeed be revered.

    :twocents:
     
  6. anothersquid

    anothersquid O. bimaculoides Supporter

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    Experience has shown me that a good many (most?) of the "animals are not property of humans" have to jump through large, brutally deficient logical hoops to accommodate the cats they keep, the dogs they keep, etc. Apparently it's not OK to eat animals, nor to keep animals in captivity for research or learning, but owning a cat or dog is just fine because they're cute, environmental damage be damned.

    It's an argument you can't win.
     
  7. anothersquid

    anothersquid O. bimaculoides Supporter

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    I have never kept cephs... but I used to have 8 aquariums on the go at one time, one of which was salt water. Today, I have 0.

    Back when I had 8, I used to breed some species of freshwater fish, using the profits to offset the costs of the aquariums. In terms of work, I estimated that it consumed time and money equivalent to owning 4 big dogs.

    I got out of it for two reasons. Foremost was the amount of work involved. My life was getting busier and it was becoming increasingly difficult to dedicate the time required to properly maintain them.

    The marine tank was special, and I got out of that because I started researching where the fish come from, and as you are probably aware, most come from the wild. Of the ones that don't come from the wild, they often don't exhibit the behaviour they do in the wild (clownfish, for example, that are bred in captivity don't always take up with anemones) which makes them less desirable. It really started to bother me that I was taking animals from the wild for largely ornamental purposes, even if I did make an effort to study and learn about them. In fact, this thinking started coming about when I began to consider getting an octopus and wanted to know where you could get tank-bred octopus. I was not comfortable with taking octopus from the wild to keep for a few months to a small number of years.

    So over time, I closed out all my tanks. I don't hold resentment to people who choose differently, but for me, capturing a wild animal for ornamental purposes bugs me. It's like hunters who hunt for heads on the wall. Hunt for food? no problem. Hunt to get a nice rack mount for the den? Inappropriate.
     
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  8. ceph

    ceph Wonderpus Staff Member Moderator

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    "Happy" is generally not scientifically measurable making this a philosophy discussion, not a scientific one. From a scientific point of view, this question is a bit like being asked or told which religion is best. Sure it can generate lots of heated arguments but at the end of the day, there is no evidence on either side and usually no ones minds have been changed.

    There are people that think marine mammals should never be kept in captivity including rescue animals that can no longer live in the wild. There are PETA members that have "freed" domestic dogs as they believe that no animal, period, should be kept by humans. Some of us are vegetarians. Some of us eat octopuses. Some indigenous people have been eating marine mammals for thousands of years. While we as a group may agree on some cultural standards, none of this can be solved with science. Science has limits. Science is only appropriate for things that are measurable. Happiness in animals is not, especially one so different than us.

    I can speak more to the question of "is captive animal X being cared for ethically?". "Ethically" is a human value judgement, we are humans, and unlike "happy", we are experts in our own opinions! Off the top of my head, I suspect that most biologists would at least in general agree with the following:

    Is the animal able to live a full life? (Often they live longer than in nature as there are no predators)
    Is it able to reproduce? (Animals, especially females, have to be in descent or better physical shape to be able to reproduce).
    Is it able to be active and behave similarly to what it could do in the wild. (This can be hard but is where enrichment comes in).
    Is it safe and reasonable free from stress. (For example, an octopus without a lair to hide in may shows signs of stress).
    Is it free from exhibiting behaviors associated with high levels of stress (eating its own arms can be a sign of extreme stress in octopuses, pacing around the edge of the cage for captive animals).
    Is the animal rare? If so, is it and better off reproducing in the wild? Is it rare and hunted or its habitat is destroyed and is it therefore better off in captivity cared for by professionals?

    The list above can be quantified. This may not be as straight forward as physics or engineering and there are some value judgments but you can measure lifespan, if an animal reproduces or not, activity, signs of stress, closeness to extinction, etc.

    James
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2015
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  9. um0123

    um0123 Pygmy Octopus Registered

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    Just for the record i never thought that my argument was probable, I just wanted to show her that my argument was just as valid as hers (both being unprovable).

    Of course I know that we can never truly know what the animal feels, and their behavior we can only study to give us an idea of what it may be feeling based on other observations. I never said that animal behavior was an exact science. Regardless I still believe that we can have an idea of how an animal is feeling based on various indicators. If we never had any idea ever of what an animal may be feeling then animal behavior wouldn't be studied as it never would give any predictions better than random. This is how I base my argument, that we have behavioralists that can make predictions with a better than random chance of it being correct based on other observations. This is how I say we can "know" (read: very educated estimate) what an animal may be feeling.
     
  10. Thales

    Thales Colossal Squid Staff Member Moderator

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  11. DarkwingedDuck

    DarkwingedDuck Blue Ring Registered

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    Sorry, but if you agree that both arguments are unprovable...then you really can't justify keeping the animal captive, so be default I'd say that your friend is correct.

    And I'm not sure how to stress this any more...behavioural scientist is not a synonym for animal psychiatrist. We observe behaviour, and try to understand the external factors influencing said behaviour. We may also try to understand how these behaviours relate to social interactions, predator/prey interactions, etc. No reputable scientific behaviour article will have a conclusion saying "therefore, the animal feels...". We may say "when the octopus is threatened, it will ink" but not "when the octopus is afraid, it will ink".

    I quite agree with James that the question in keeping a captive animal is if it is being done ethically. Also, make sure you know the source of where your little octo-friend is coming from. I'm not really a fan of the aquarium trade..but there are some sources which are better than others. Also, Thales is very correct in saying animal ethics is "crazy town". When I do an ethics application for research...I have to write up a huge report saying exactly how I will keep/house/feed/transport/monitor/tell if they are sick/how to euthanise them if necessary/how many per tank and so, so much more. Then it goes off to a board who reviews it and sends back suggestions of what to change with an approval or disapproval. As a hobbyist, you don't have that...so do your research and have everything right...then if you're lucky, you might just end up with a "happy" octopus.
     
  12. tonmo

    tonmo Titanites Staff Member Webmaster Moderator

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    From my signature but worth repeating here: Please Read First: TONMO.com Forum Guidelines and Cephalopod Care Ethics Statement
    This point (and more) is explored in this classic thread.

    Lastly, this truly classic thread from 2003 produced this important statement by me:
    :nyah:
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2015
  13. ekocak

    ekocak Vampyroteuthis Registered

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    This is one of those topics, like politics or religions that's hard to have calm, rational discussion with a lot of people about. I agree with most of what's been said above thread already, but I'd add that this comes up in almost all "pet industries." I was heavily involved in the reptile/amphibian breeder community for many, many years and my opinions about keeping animals in captivity have certainly changed and become more...nuanced. It's really hard to draw lines in the sand. Many hobbyists I know have higher success rates at breeding animals than some zoos, and I used to be completely pro-captivity. Especially in the reptile world, there's a sentiment that it's a personal freedom thing, and they have an attitude of almost NRA-like activism about it. "Don't take my 20 foot burmese python away!" You also have PETA-style individuals who don't believe anyone should have any pets at all.
    I heartily disagree with that. My problem with this, even discounting the ethics of animal "happiness" is that for some animals, captivity may be their last shot. I own three axolotl salamanders, for example, which are essentially extinct in the wild because of habitat loss, introduced fish, diseases and pollution. However, since axolotls are popular in the pet/breeder world and the scientific laboratory world, they live on, albeit in a heavily modified, captive form. Not saying this is always a justification, in fact, it's not--but captivity as "arks" for endangered animals is certainly an argument for captivity. Where it all falls apart for me is the pet trade itself. Going back to reptiles: it's really a global evil. Animals are harvested from the wild with pretty much no concern for anything. I stopped buying "wild caught" animals many years ago, but I'm probably an outlier. I know the aquarium industry can be pretty bad, but in the time since I left the aquarium hobby (around 2004) to now, I see a lot more emphasis on sustainable practices than I do in the reptile industry. There are many more tank raised options. Even cuttlefish can be tank raised. You don't have to use live rock plucked from the ocean.
    I know I went a bit off topic there, but what I mean to say is, that while anti-captivity people have good arguments, there are also good arguments for keeping certain animals in captivity.
     
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  14. Octavarium

    Octavarium Wonderpus Registered

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    Tell your friend that theres many indicators (vitals, blood work, etc.) that make us look ok. but heck I still can be depressed doing the rat race of life. It's just the way it is lol No seriously, I think we can tell if an Octopus is distressed or not, and I don't think (as smart as they are) they have any of those useless byproduct of higher intelligence traits such as "unenvironmental depression, lack of "fulfillment" etc. If they play with you, greet you, eat, live months (or years if you're lucky to get yougin...and they aren't an endangered species....no worries for owning and caring for them. But ultimately...no one can be 100% certain ANY lifeform is "100% happy", us humans included.
     
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