Octopus Consciousness: Are Octopuses Sentient?

are octopus sentient

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Octopuses are undoubtedly some of the most intelligent animals in our oceans. They are capable of problem-solving, recognizing human faces, and even using tools.

They are part of the cephalopod family which in Greek, means “head foot”, a rather fitting description for these eight-armed creatures.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at octopuses and answer a question that has long been debated. Are octopuses sentient?

Yes, octopuses are now recognized as sentient in UK law. This means that they are capable of perceiving things such as pain and pleasure.

Are Octopuses Actually Sentient?

In November 2021, the UK declared octopuses, crabs, and lobsters as sentient beings as part of the Animal Welfare Bill.

The law originally included all vertebrates, or animals with a backbone, but did not include any invertebrates.

However, on November 19th, the UK government announced that two invertebrate groups – cephalopod mollusks (octopuses, cuttlefish, and squids) and decapod crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, shrimp, and crayfish) will now be included on the list of sentient beings.

The driving force behind this law was a new study published on November 19th by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), which reviewed evidence from hundreds of scientific studies on these two invertebrate groups.

The study concluded that both of these groups of animals can in fact perceive things such as pain and pleasure, and therefore are sentient.

In the report, the researchers state that “sentience is the capacity to have feelings, such as feelings of pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort and excitement”.

That said, pain reception is now widely considered to be the central criterion policymakers consider when drafting new legislation on animal welfare.

What This Law Means

As octopuses among other animals will now be included in the Animal Welfare Bill in the UK, this means that it will be illegal to boil these animals alive and the government will provide them more protection under the bill.

It’s not just the UK that is providing these animals with protection. New Zealand, Italy, Austria, Germany, and Norway all now afford octopus protection under their animal welfare legislation.

As octopuses are now seen as sentient beings, boiling these animals alive is now seen as “unnecessary torture” and will be stopped in these countries.

Can Octopus Feel Emotions?

Octopuses are widely considered to be some of the most intelligent animals in our oceans. They are capable of solving puzzles, opening jar lids and even using tools for protection.

But the debate as to whether octopuses can feel emotions often sparks a hot debate and is one that often shakes up humans’ moral decision-making.

For the longest time in Western culture, it has been thought that animals don’t feel pain or emotions, and it’s been an uphill battle to get even fish or mammals recognized as sentient.

Now that octopuses have been recognized as sentient, and given that they are highly intelligent, it opens up a moral and ethical dilemma.

We, humans, are able to say what we feel and express our emotions, whereas octopuses do not have the same tools and way of doing so, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t have them.

Invertebrates such as octopuses may well be able to feel emotions such as affection, sadness, anger, excitement, etc, but until we find a way to communicate this then we will sadly never know for sure.

Are Octopuses Self-Aware?

There is no question that octopuses are highly intelligent, they have roughly the same intelligence as the average dog, and they display their intelligence in many ways.

Aisling Graham, Sea Life curator once said “Any aquarist who has worked for any length of time will tell you they not only think…they are all individuals”.

They use tools in their environment for protection, communicate with one another, and even form strong social bonds.

Octopuses have even passed the “mirror test”, which is commonly used to demonstrate self-recognition and consciousness.

There is no doubt that octopuses are self-aware, they are able to recognize themselves in a mirror as well as feel emotions such as pain and pleasure.

They have consciousness just like you and me, which is why many scientists have started to look at octopuses, as well as squid and cuttlefish in a new light.

Take a look at this amazing video of an octopus doing the mirror test below:

Final Thoughts

Are octopuses sentient? Yes, they certainly are. The UK amongst other countries now recognizes octopuses as sentient beings.

This means that they are capable of experiencing feelings such as pain and pleasure, but they are also self-aware and highly intelligent animals too.

Octopuses are capable of behavior that is not seen in any other animals in our oceans. They are up there with the smartest animals in the animal kingdom.

They are now protected under the law in the UK and are part of the Animal Welfare Bill, preventing them from being boiled alive and experiencing any unnecessary torture.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article and educate yourself further on octopuses, I really hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and feel free to stick around to learn more about octopuses and other marine wildlife.