Why I can't eat polvo

oregon expat | 15 March 2010 at 8:53 pm | Categories: science | URL: http://wp.me/pLzaa-8C

The Portuguese love polvo. Polvo rice, polvo salad, polvo casserole, breaded and fried polvo…the methods of cooking and presentation seem endless.

I can't eat it. And believe me, I've eaten everything else that's been put in front of me since moving to Portugal, including fresh pig's brains fried up with egg and bread. (Which was really good, by the way.)

Polvo means octopus. And after working for several years in a public aquarium that included octopodes in its collection, I have too much respect for the intelligence of these animals to eat them. It would be like eating a cat.

photo by Ryan Wick

Octopodes are notoriously hard to keep in captivity. They are extraordinary escape artists. You probably would be too, if you had eight arms covered with handy suction cups — and perfect control over each individual cup — and a soft body that could fit through tiny openings. The only hard part of an octopus is the beak located at the center of its arms. If the beak can fit through an opening, the rest of the body can follow. (For a perfect illustration of this talent, check out this short video.)

Most aquarium staff have learned the hard way that if they want their octopus to stay put, they need to either 1) put an airtight lid on the tank and weigh it down with a rock, 2) glue astroturf all around the edges and upper walls of the tank, which prevents the suction cups from getting a good seal, or 3) a combination of both. (Number 3 is always best.)

Good aquarists understand that keeping their octopus from doing a runner is not enough. These creatures are so intelligent that they get bored in captivity, and a bored octopus will either destroy anything breakable in its exhibit, or display neurotic behaviors (much like a bored lion in a zoo will pace back and forth, back and forth). Often, aquarists will offer toys, or put food inside plastic "puzzles" that make it a challenge for the octopus to get the food out. Anything to keep it busy and occupied!

The aquarists at a German public aquarium apparently didn't keep their octopus busy enough. A 2008 Telegraph article details their travails when Otto the octopus took it upon himself to short out the entire power supply of the facility:

The short-circuit had baffled electricians as well as staff at the Sea Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany, who decided to take shifts sleeping on the floor to find out what caused the mysterious blackouts.

A spokesman said: "It was a serious matter because it shorted the electricity supply to the whole aquarium that threatened the lives of the other animals when water pumps ceased to work. It was on the third night that we found out that the octopus Otto was responsible for the chaos."

How did Otto accomplish this feat?

"We knew that he was bored as the aquarium is closed for winter, and at two feet, seven inches Otto had discovered he was big enough to swing onto the edge of his tank and shoot out the 2000 Watt spot light above him with a carefully directed jet of water."

Director Elfriede Kummer who witnessed the act said: "We've put the light a bit higher now so he shouldn't be able to reach it. But Otto is constantly craving for attention and always comes up with new stunts so we have realised we will have to keep a more careful eye on him – and also perhaps give him a few more toys to play with."

Director Kummer is a smart person. Perhaps almost as smart as Otto.

So you can see why I have issues with the Portuguese love of polvo. I don't care if they taste like strawberries dipped in chocolate (which they most certainly do not), I just can't eat a creature that is so intelligent and so amazingly gifted.

Besides — how can anyone look at this photo and think of cooking something that cute?

photo by Foxtongue

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