The Octopus’ Branding Makeover: From Devil-Fish to Brilliant Invertebrate

BOSTON - APRIL 17: The giant Pacific octopus in the Olympic Coast exhibits is the newest exhibit at the New England Aquarium, seen here on Sunday, April 17, 2016. This octopus is 10 feet from tentacle to tentacle. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

At Seattle Met, James Ross Gardner explores the Pacific Northwest’s evolving relationship with the octopus and how they’ve gone from dangerous “devil-fish” bent on drowning unsuspecting sea goers to intensely curious, suction-cupped wonders. With nine brains — one in their head and one in each of their eight arms — octopuses are thought to be the most intelligent invertebrates on earth, capable of deep connection with humans.

OUR LONG, SOMETIMES TUMULTUOUS RELATIONSHIP with octopuses in Seattle has settled into something nearing reverence. We once called them ugly monsters. Now we plaster their likeness on our restaurants and tattoo it onto our arms. We once bludgeoned them with oars and brawled with them for sport. Now we’ve elevated octopuses to what in this secular era passes for gods: extraterrestrials.

But mostly she admires their cunning. She once led guests into the back room where the Aquarium holds the octopuses not on display, and set food on the closed lid of an adjacent tank while she introduced the guests to an affable tenant. The visitors marveled at the octopus as it latched onto them with its tentacle suctions, the coin-size feelers octopuses use to taste and smell. The animal kept Kathryn and the guests busy with seven of its arms. With the other it surreptitiously reached out to the food, sneaking it away until Kathryn finally wised up.

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