This book sounded quite interesting and although it wanders from the octopus often to delve into other topics, it always comes back to the main one and overall, despite an issue or two, I enjoyed this audiobook, read by the author, and commend it as a worthy read. It's for the most part well written, although a bit sentimental and anthropomorphizing at times, and the author has a pleasant and enjoyable reading voice.
The story covers her falling in love with the octopuses (octopods if you must, never octopi), at the Boston Aquarium, and since they're so short-lived - the Pacific giant octopus, which is the mainstay of this book, lives only for four years or so at most, and is biologically programmed to die after caring for the thousands of eggs that she lays. In the main, there were three of these animals discussed throughout the book: Athena, Kali, and Karma, but others were also touched upon - sometimes literally!
At one point I had to question the purpose of bringing these animals from the wild into a zoo to be put on display. There was this one relatively young octopus they named Kali, who featured in a large part of the book. Overnight, she managed to get out of this new tank she'd just been put into that same day, and she died of dehydration and suffocation on the floor at night.
There was a small gap in back of the tank where the water pipe went in, to keep the water refreshed, and she somehow squeezed through that. You have to wonder how intelligent these critters really are when they deliberately leave a safe environment to go into the open air through a two- or three-inch gap. The thing that really bothered me though, was the sheer number of accounts in this book, of this kind of thing happening repeatedly, affecting one species after another. Frankly it was irresponsible of the captors of these animals not to have seen to their welfare better than they did and I'm sorry the author didn't seem angry about it. She was more like, 'Oh well, there goes another octopus. Bring a fresh one in.' It's a little cruel to phrase it like that, but honestly, that was sometimes how it felt to me.
Obviously caring for animals is not an exact science, and things can go wrong. I can imagine if these animals were kept by private owners there would be all kinds of stupid and thoughtless mistakes made and animals dying, but this is the Boston Aquarium staffed by seasoned professionals and the number of incidents was disturbing, like for example, when this electric eel got from its tank into a neighboring one where it electrocuted two prized fish in that tank.
Seriously, did these people never consider keeping the tanks completely isolated from one another? Keeping secure lids on them? At least giving a nod and a wink to Murphy's Law? The saddest thing is that it felt like none of them learned anything from past experience and were therefore condemned to repeat their mistakes. This is incompetence, plain and simple. I sincerely hope other zoos and aquaria take more care.
I can also imagine that Kali's death was an emotional moment for the author after she'd bonded quite strongly with this particular octopus, but the rapidity with which she moved on to Kali's replacement, named Karma, of all things, rather cheapened her mourning period. It was at that point that she put some stuff in the book aimed at justifying going through this parade of wild-captured octopuses.<./p>
She talked about the value of the education that the aquarium does, but she never said a word about pollution or climate change and whether or not the educational experience, for whatever it's worth, that random members of the public get in seeing these animals in captivity, ever really translates into any concrete results in terms of public awareness and support for combatting climate change, or pollution, or in increasing environmentalism.
The absence of something like that undercut the value of her words, because without knowing if that works and produces results it seems fatuous indeed to me to be so devil-may-care about capturing these animals from the wild and then seeing them die in foolish and thoughtless ways. Neither does it do any good to educate people that the giant pacific octopus is really cute, interesting, and harmless if they don't connect its habitat with a polluted and warming ocean. I found that annoying and inappropriate.
I had to ask myself why they aren't breeding these octopuses and repatriating their offspring back to the ocean, or using the bred-in-captivity offspring to populate zoos instead of capturing more from the oceans. That would help to make up for those that are dying in captivity, but she didn't say a word about that either! Overall I got the impression that she was so enamored of the animals that her thoughts really were not free enough to stray very much into the bigger picture, which was truly sad.
That said, the book was educational, although it could have gone a lot further, and it was entertaining. It gave me more of a picture of what's involved in maintaining an exhibit in an aquarium and in how octopuses interact with novelty - including humans sticking their arms into the tanks. It said a lot less about what I was interested in: how intelligent (or dumb!) these animals truly are or what efforts are being made to measure and test that intelligence. I'd hoped for more. This was very much a puff piece - a PR exercise for octopods - but I was reasonably satisfied with what I got, so on that basis I rate it a worthy read.