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July 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Soul of a Fish Monger

the smartest critter spared from the grill

from the July, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When Giovanni DeGarimore went scuba diving in Fiji a few years back, he was astonished at the intelligence of an octopus. He came across a playful octopus, and, he says, "We played a game of hide and seek for 15 minutes under the ocean."

He knows his ocean critters, you see, because he is the owner of Giovanni's Fish Market in Morro Bay. California. And when he got word that a local crab fisherman was selling a 70-pound cephalopod that he had hauled up in his crab pot, DeGarimore had a choice to make.

His livelihood depends on selling seafood, not releasing it, but he knew that he has had a change of heart about the noble octopus. "It's just been a culmination of events through the last 10 years," he said, which includes a flood of new research into the intelligence of the octopus -- they are problem solvers, they love to play, and, of course, they are master escape artists.

Not only did he not want to financially reward the capture of octopuses; DeGarimore said he couldn't bear the thought of a "beautiful animal" being cut up while still alive. He paid the fisherman a couple hundred dollars, and "Fred," his new eight-legged friend, temporarily took up residence at Giovanni's Fish Market.

Fred's rescue appeared on his company's Facebook page, which drew a massive and largely positive response.

So, on May 17, it was time for Fred to go home; DeGarimore released the octopus in a secure place, well away from risks in the bay such as sea lions.

DeGarmore said he would be happy "if my little contribution can make a bigger difference in the world." That contribution includes no longer selling any octopus-related products on his website, which serves customers across the country.

"It'll hit me in the pocket, but I'd rather stand for something," he said.

- from an article by Andrew Keeler in the
San Luis Obispo TribuneNews

The Soul of an Octopus

A decade ago in a posh San Francisco restaurant, I was tempted to order the grilled Pacific octopus. But I didn't, recalling that an octopus, by many counts, is smarter and more emotional than many wise mammals, dogs included. I love spotting an octopus whipping across a reef, changing shapes and colors faster than I can track. So not wanting to be party to the death of such a remarkable creature, I stopped eating octopus. And having just read Sy Montgomery's new book, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (it was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction), I'm all for taking it off everyone's menu. This animal belongs in a Head Start class, not a sushi restaurant.

The Soul of an Octopus

Montgomery spends months at Boston's New England Aquarium, where several staffers school her in the complexity and personalities of several individual octopuses. (Yes indeed, they differ in personalities as much as you and I differ.) As they eye her every move, wrapping their arms around her arms so their suckers can taste her to identify her, she learns that they befriend some attendants, but not others, for whom they show their disaffection by shooting water, biting, trying to drag them into their tanks, or just hiding away. If you're a friend, they'll play with toys you put in the water -- one used her water spout to drive a float around the tank many times -- and embrace you softly. She watches the octopuses' endless color and pattern changes, learning that red is excitement and white is relaxation, while rolling patterns confuse their prey, making them easy to strike. And she searches for escapees, who have squeezed through impossible cracks in their tanks to slide into other tanks to hunt dinner.

To observe octopuses in the wild, Montgomery scuba dives in Cozumel and Tahiti. While her octopus encounters are fascinating, you will shake your head at her diving problems. In the most touching chapter, Montgomery visits the Seattle Aquarium for Octopus Blind Date Night, an annual event where two octopuses, in full view of onlookers and TV cameras, are put into a single tank. The hope is they will mate, but they may ignore each other, or one may even kill the other and devour it. You'll be captivated by Montgomery's beautiful description of octopus love, and because mating is a prelude to their deaths, the aquarium releases them into Elliott Bay with accompanying divers, who track how each octopus searches for a home and settles in, the female protecting her eggs until they hatch.

I guarantee you'll finish this book in absolute awe of the octopus, perhaps even encouraged to volunteer at your local aquarium to get backstage to meet and greet the real creatures. I also suspect that you'll never eat an octopus again. And if you do, well, shame on you.

To purchase the 262-page hardbound book, go to, and our profits will be donated to organizations working to save the oceans.

- Ben Davison, reprinted from Undercurrent
January 2016

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