By Nicola O'Brien, 07/12/20

A new documentary entitled ‘My Octopus Teacher’ shows the true story of one man, Craig Foster and his growing relationship with an octopus he meets whilst freediving in the ocean near his home. 

The story is fascinating and emotional, as we watch the relationship between this man and a female wild octopus develop with growing trust and admiration on both sides. (I won’t share too many spoilers, you can watch the film on Netflix!)

The film maker aimed to show that nature has great value and can leave a lasting impression on the human race. Whilst I found the story very emotionally touching, for me it wasn’t the human story that stood out and what Foster gained from their friendship.

What stood out to me was the incredible individual that she, the octopus, was. 

What was truly unique about his film was how it covered in depth the everyday life of one individual animal, chronicling her struggles, her triumphs, her losses and eventually, her end. Very rarely do we see animals being portrayed as individuals in such depth, as we are so often used to seeing humans portrayed. By doing so it showed powerfully that animals do have their own rich lives, and that those lives have great value. 

Learning more about her, this octopus, I felt fascinated but also increasingly sad, as I thought of the thousands of other individual octopuses just like her who spend their lifetimes in captivity. In aquariums both open to the public and in private homes. 

In captivity, these incredible animals lead a life of restriction and deprivation. With limited space, limited interactions with other species, limited variety in their glass prisons, nothing could be further than the wild and complex home we saw this octopus inhabit in the documentary. 

Velma is one such octopus. She is a Giant Pacific octopus currently being held captive at an aquarium in Cornwall. What kind of life does she have behind glass? Not much of one compared to that of the octopus living wild and free.

The vast majority of these octopuses in captivity will have started life in the wild, only to be brutally abducted from their wild homes by companies who ‘supply’ the aquarium industry. 

Because the horrifying reality is that an estimated 79% of all animals in aquariums come from the wild. Most of these wild species will not breed in captivity, so in order for an aquarium to have a colourful display for visitors, they are taken from the wild. 

Just think - the fish we see behind the glass at an aquarium in Manchester has likely come from a tropical reef in Asia. Or that octopus we are fascinated by at an aquarium in London, could have come from the Pacific ocean. 

These animals no doubt endure immense stress and fear, being taken from their homes, thrust into plastic bags, boxes or buckets and transported across the globe to a prison. These animals, who have never before experienced the constraints of walls, are now held prisoner in a never-changing exhibit for human eyes. 

A facebook post from one of the companies who supply wild-caught animals for the aquarium industry

So when I reflect on this wonderful documentary, I deeply hope that it opens up the hearts and minds of those who watch it, to consider other animals in perhaps a different way than we have before. 

To start to see that other animals have their own intrinsic right to life, to freedom, to experience. That they can make their own decisions, good or bad and have complex lives just as we do. 

I hope it leads to thoughts that perhaps other species are not ours to capture and exploit for our own interests. That all animals no matter how different they may seem to us, are individuals with their own lives. 

And I hope that this consideration means places like aquariums and zoos are seen for the prisons they truly are. 

That is where our campaigning work comes in!

Find out more about the cruel aquarium trade

Order anti-aquarium leaflets

I'd implore anyone who is fascinated by octopuses or other ocean animals to make a donation to this campaign - to help keep these individuals living wild and free.