Monday, March 9, 2009

consider the octopus

At work, our Asia-Pacific conference will be held in Osaka, Japan this September. Today I was reading about Osaka so that I can start drafting content for the conference website. Osaka is known as the Food Capital of Japan, and I was chagrined to learn much of the standard Osakan fare includes octopus. Seriously? Octopus? I immediately thought two things: EWWW! and Poor octopuses! So of course I had to learn more about the octopus. Here are some of the highlights, all from that trusty Wikipedia:
  • Octopuses are highly intelligent, probably more intelligent than any other order of invertebrates. The exact extent of their intelligence and learning capability is much debated among biologists, but maze and problem-solving experiments have shown that they do have both short- and long-term memory.
  • In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them. Octopuses often break out of their aquariums and sometimes into others in search of food.
  • In the UK, cephalopods such as octopuses are regarded as honorary vertebrates under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and other cruelty-to-animals legislation, extending to them protections not normally afforded to invertebrates.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop being amazed—or saddened—by people who eat any living creature, much less one that is intelligent and emotionally aware. If I go to this conference (not sure yet if I am), I’m going to have to steel myself to see dead octopuses in markets and on people’s plates.

And I’ll definitely need to learn the Japanese word for vegetarian, which I hope doesn’t mean simply a plate of white rice.