A reader responds to a recent post:
I was one of your dawdling freeloaders. But I finally caved, and it wasn’t your coverage of the debt-crisis that did it. While politics are somewhat similar around the world, as a Canadian, I have been simply shocked by Congress and the insane behaviour on display. Riveting reading, and I could not get enough. But in the middle of it all, with pending economic annihilation, you added to your delightful octopus post. Sweet relief – a sign of intelligent life! I raised my debt-ceiling and subscribed.
This time last year, one unlucky Seattle octopus was reportedly beaten to death by a local diver and then brought home to be eaten for dinner. The story riled cephalopod fans near and far and has been covered extensively in the press, including a feature story this past weekend in The New York Times Magazine.
The diver, a teenager who was collecting his first octopus for part of a school project as well as for dinner, had been made the villain of the infamous encounter. He was, however, abiding by the law and had a fishing license to collect marine life in the area. And accounts of the incident do suggest he was following the rules prohibiting instruments that would “penetrate or mutilate the body,” such as a spear or knife. In fact he appears to have gotten the octopus very much by hand; he was described as “punching” the octopus repeatedly—for nearly half an hour—before overpowering it and carrying it to his truck.
From this, I can only think of the words of fictional film news anchorman Ron Burgundy, I’m not even mad; that’s amazing.
The octopus in question was a giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) and this particular one was estimated to be about six feet long and weigh 80 pounds. The diver describes the initial encounter with the octopus in which he goaded it into attacking him. It then grabbed his body with its suckered arms and pulled out his regulator—a situation that seems like it could easily have turned deadly for the teen instead of the octopus. … Although octopuses usually go after prey smaller than themselves, they can use their strength to overpower substantial adversaries, including sharks. In fact, it was also in Seattle, at the Seattle Aquarium, that a giant Pacific octopus was filmed killing a shark a few years ago.
Lindsay Abrams looks for the larger lesson in the Seattle story:
Locals took up arms against Mayer’s actions — but at the same time lavished praise on a high-end restaurant renowned for its, yes, giant Pacific octopus. And so the foodie community was tasked with an uncomfortable dilemma: “Should it save the giant Pacific octopus or just eat it?”
“Mayer’s real offense,” writes [NYT magazine writer Marnie] Hanel, “may have been forcing a community to realize that just because they’ve embraced local fare doesn’t mean they’re necessarily ready to see, in gory detail, it slaughtered or hunted or punched out and dragged from the bay.” It’s a local lesson that we can all identify with — even ethically raised meat, animal rights activists will remind you, is eventually slaughtered, and slaughter is rarely not brutal. When we’re forced to truly consider just where our food comes from, things invariably get more complicated.
For more on that theme, check out our recent thread “The Abatement of Cruelty“. Update from a reader:
As a Seattle-area scuba diver, conflating the GPO [giant Pacific octopus]/Mayer story and the locavore movement is 100% BS. In all the conversations I’ve had with divers about this story (even all the way in Australia!), food sourcing came up precisely zero times. Never even heard of the restaurant in Pioneer Square mentioned. Plenty of scuba divers here will hunt locally for Dungeness crab and ling cod when they’re in season. I find crabbing lots of fun but avoid spearfishing myself.
What riled up people so much is that Cove 2 is probably the most popular dive site in Seattle. It’s one of several shore diving sites where you know exactly where to find the GPOs and have a good chance of spotting one. We all appreciate the intelligence, strength, and odd beauty of these magnificent animals. Then some schmuck gotta roll up and play Great White Hunter. It was an incredibly stupid and selfish thing to do, and he’s straight up lying if he says he had no idea how popular Cove 2 was. This was local democracy in action. Small but very concerned interest group lobbies for change and gets it.
And you know what? I prefer watching starfish eat a dead octopus. Or watching a live octopus grab at my camera. I can live entirely without ever eating one. If you have to spend several winters beating the meat to make it edible, it’s probably not worth the effort.
This stupid New York Times story has me honked off like a goose now. Thank you.