Discover why these masters of disguise are our Cause of the Month for November 2023
There are few creatures in the ocean that capture our imaginations quite like the octopus. These cephalopods are the living embodiment of the ocean’s mystery and have been a source of wonder and fascination for centuries.
Their unusual bodies, undulating arms, and uncanny ability to disguise themselves have been the inspiration behind some of the world’s most legendary monsters, including the Kraken of Scandinavia and the Lusca of the Bahamas.
Today, octopuses are widely regarded as the most intelligent invertebrates in the ocean—but that hasn’t always been the case.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle once called the octopus “a stupid creature” and, after describing some of its habits and history in his work, History of Animals, he dismisses the octopus, saying “So much for the mollusca.”
Thankfully, science has advanced since 350 BC and octopuses’ incredible problem-solving abilities have been documented by modern researchers time and again. (So much for Aristotle.)
We now know that octopuses can solve problems, remember solutions, navigate complex mazes, and that they’ll take things apart just for fun.
Masters of disguise, octopuses can instantaneously change their skin color and texture to match their surroundings while their soft, pliable bodies can fit into impossibly small spaces.
An octopus named Inky demonstrated just how intelligent, dexterous, and determined his genus can be after his Houdini-like escape from a New Zealand aquarium outwitted researchers and made international headlines.
Inky slipped through a tiny gap at the top of his tank, crawled eight feet across the aquarium floor, and slid down a 164-foot-long drainpipe that transported him back to his ocean home. Talk about navigating a complex maze!
There’s also evidence that octopuses have personalities and will react to different stimuli based on how shy, active, or emotional they are.
In her book Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness, naturalist and author Sy Montgomery shares example after example of octopuses outsmarting researchers, expressing compassion for them, and playing games with them.
There are around 300 incredible species of octopus living in our oceans today. You can find them in almost every environment, from shallow coral reefs to the deepest parts of the open ocean. And everywhere you find an octopus in its natural habitat, you can also find an unnatural predator: plastic pollution.
How plastic pollution impacts octopuses
Entanglement: Octopuses can become entangled in discarded fishing nets, lines, and other plastic debris. This can lead to injury or even death, as they may struggle to free themselves and become more susceptible to predators.
Ingestion: Octopuses are opportunistic feeders and often hunt for prey along the ocean floor. They may mistake small plastic items, like plastic bags or microplastics, for food and ingest them. This can lead to blockages in their digestive systems, malnutrition, and overall health issues.
Contaminated habitat: Plastic pollution can alter octopus habitats. Accumulated plastic debris on the seafloor can degrade the quality of their living environment by covering or damaging the substrate where they hide or create dens. This can force octopuses to relocate or disrupt their natural behaviors.
Chemical pollution: Plastics contain various chemical additives, some of which are toxic. When octopuses ingest plastic, they may also ingest these harmful chemicals, which can accumulate in their tissues and potentially disrupt their endocrine and immune systems, affecting their reproductive capabilities and overall health.
Altered food chain: Plastic pollution can disrupt the marine food web by affecting the organisms octopuses prey upon. When plastic debris is ingested by smaller organisms lower in the food chain, it can accumulate and be transferred to octopuses when they consume these prey. This bioaccumulation of plastic and associated toxins can impact octopus populations.
Reduced prey availability: Some octopus species rely on crustaceans and small fish for their diet. Plastic pollution can affect these prey populations directly or indirectly through habitat degradation and changes in water quality, reducing the availability of food for octopuses.
- Behavioral changes: Octopuses may interact with plastic debris in unpredictable ways. They might use it as shelter, leading to behavioral changes or decreased reproduction rates if the plastic doesn't provide adequate protection or disrupts their normal reproductive behaviors.
How you can help protect octopuses and their habitats
- Educate yourself and others about octopuses, their biology, and their importance in marine ecosystems
- Support and advocate for stricter regulations on octopus fishing to prevent overfishing and habitat destruction
- Choose sustainable seafood options and avoid consuming octopus products from unsustainable sources
- Participate in beach cleanups and other environmental initiatives to reduce pollution in octopus habitats
- Reduce plastic usage and properly dispose of plastics to prevent octopus entanglement and ingestion
- Support marine conservation organizations that focus on octopus protection and research
- Report any illegal or harmful activities, such as poaching or habitat destruction, that threaten octopus populations.
- Respect octopuses in their natural habitats by not disturbing them or collecting them as pets
- Encourage responsible tourism practices, such as snorkeling and diving with a minimal impact on octopus habitats
- Advocate for the establishment and maintenance of marine protected areas that include octopus habitats
Remember, every small action counts, and our collective effort can have a significant positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our oceans and all the animals who call it home.
Limited Edition Octopus Bracelet
By purchasing our Bracelet of the Month, you will remove 5 pounds of trash from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines. Only available November 2023.