Cephalopod Welfare In The E.U. And Beyond
The Treaty of Lisbon, signed on December 13, 2007, included the first recognition of animal sentience and welfare in E.U. legislation. Article 13 requires that researchers hold animals in accordance with the “Five Freedoms,” the ideal states of animal welfare, and reduce or eliminate their stress from captivity.
Remarkably, in January 2013 the E.U. Directive 2010/63/EU (Directive), which regulates animals for scientific research and educational purposes, included invertebrates — specifically, cephalopods — in its list of regulated species. This was the first time that invertebrates, and an entire class of animals, were regulated under E.U. legislation. From hatching to death, lawmakers put cephalopods (e.g., nautiloids, cuttlefish, squids, and octopuses) on equal footing with all vertebrates. Although they comprise only 800 species within their phylum, Mollusca, cephalopods are astonishingly diverse with complex behaviors and learning capabilities.
The Directive requires that animal handlers create conditions to reduce or eliminate the stress that captivity induces. Researchers must thus identify and reproduce those aspects of species-specific natural environment and lifestyle habits that are essential for the well-being of cephalopods. Scientists estimate that the foraging area of an octopus is about 200-square meters at sea. Aquarium settings represent an area more than 300 times smaller than the one used by octopuses in the field.
Additionally, in all E.U. Member States, handlers must use the same procedures to regulate the induction of pain, suffering, distress, or lasting harm on cephalopods as on any vertebrate “laboratory” species. According to the Directive, the threshold is “any procedure which may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm equivalent to, or higher than that caused by the insertion of a hypodermic needle in accordance with good veterinary practice.” The authors note that in some instances, behavioral research on cephalopods may be included in this definition.
Critically, the Directive does not require proof of conscious, subjective pain in cephalopods to come into play when considering their welfare. Reflex responses from nociceptors — pain receptors that send “possible threat” signals to the brain — are sufficient to require the welfare protection of these species.
The number of scientific publications specifically on cephalopod welfare in recent years is growing and includes widespread acknowledgment of cephalopod sentience. Cephalopods can solve different problems in many diverse circumstances. They can form cognitive maps, seeking different places to hunt every day. All individuals, at least among coleoid cephalopods (i.e., all soft-bodied cephalopods such as octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish), distinguish between themselves and other individuals, sexes, and species.
Criteria for cephalopod welfare should therefore focus on the animals’ objective needs, and subjective needs (i.e., on what the animals want). There are many features unique to cephalopods that should form the basis of any consideration of cephalopod well-being, particularly in captivity in tanks/aquaria. These include the following: the susceptibility of cephalopods’ delicate skin to handling and contact with tank walls; some cephalopods’ need for constant mobility such that they do not repeatedly hit tank walls, and others (e.g. squids) that require dens to hide; the need for live prey, particularly during early life stages, and the accommodation of play and problem-solving.
The authors of the present study thus believe that a framework for cephalopod welfare requires a comprehensive approach with coordination among scientists, veterinarians, conservationists, regulatory authorities, and aquarists. Morality and public perception should also inform how advocates develop welfare models for cephalopods in both lab and field studies.
Advocates can help develop cephalopod welfare concepts for the aquaculture and fishery industries. Because so much effort is required to capture cephalopods, the fishing industry kills a disproportionately large number of cephalopods compared to research and aquaculture facilities. Advocates especially need to promote increased awareness for small-scale fishers, who handle animals individually and typically kill them with little regard to welfare standards. As news of the world’s first industrial-scale octopus farm surfaces, promotion of these concepts is timely and imperative.
Cephalopod handlers should ensure the animals’ proper care, stimulation, and allowance for a meaningful life in captivity. Although many see the inclusion of an invertebrate species in Directive 2010/63/EU as a challenge — and advocates and scientists are at pains to prove that the conscious perception of pain in cephalopods matches other vertebrates — the authors see it as an unprecedented opportunity. Increasing proof that octopuses and other cephalopods are sentient species will impact not only cephalopod science but the understanding of invertebrates, their “feelings,” and animal welfare in general.