Octopus: Genius of the deep

They can use tools and experience pain and stress. Octopuses are so intelligent they may win special protection in laboratory research - and from the cruelty dished out by some restaurant kitchens

A A A

Author William Burroughs saw the octopus as a "highly emotional" creature, liable to change red with lust or pale green with fear. But in British laboratories, cephalopods are regarded as a species so unsophisticated they are denied even basic legal protection.

Not only can cephalopods be experimented upon live, their vivisection does not require a licence. As a result, there is no record of how many are being used in lab tests or for what they are being used. But compelling new evidence about their abilities means that may be about to change.

New research has shown that octopuses and their cousins, the squid and cuttlefish, are far more intelligent than previously thought. They can experience suffering and are capable of complex thought, even to the extent of using tools.

The discovery has provoked a rethink by the Government and European Union. Proposals are being drawn up to offer octopuses and their kind the same protection in laboratories as monkeys, cats and dogs.

There is even talk of their receiving better protection in restaurant kitchens, where they are routinely chopped up and cooked alive, after the European food watchdog ruled that they were capable of suffering "pain and distress".

Behind closed doors in Whitehall and Brussels, evidence of the surprising sophistication of cephalopods is being studied closely.

This evidence has so convinced officials on the Animal Procedures Committee (APC), the experimentation watchdog in the UK, that it has recommended to ministers that the law governing animal testing be amended so all cephalopods are given the same protection as animals.

But though ministers have accepted the evidence, they have stopped short of changing the law in the UK. Instead, they are delaying a decision on whether to extend protection until a wider EU ruling is made.

Dr Gill Langley, science director of the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, said the evidence was so compelling that ministers should have immediately changed the law.

"As a member of the APC, when this issue was discussed I was extremely disappointed that the minister didn't accept the recommendations of the Government's own advisory committee... There is more than enough scientific evidence for the sentiency and intelligence of cephalopods."

Already in Canada, New Zealand and Norway, octopuses, squid and cuttlefish are covered by animal welfare laws requiring them to be treated and killed humanely in the laboratories.

The animal welfare group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), says Britain and other EU countries must follow suit fast.

Jessica Sandler, director of regulatory testing at Peta, said: "There is much evidence that these creatures are not only intelligent but sensitive. They are capable of feeling stress and pain under experimental conditions, so it is obvious they should be covered under animal welfare legislation."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us