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Important things to know about cephalopods

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  • RSPCA Australia
  • Thursday, 8 June 2023

Happy World Oceans Day! Created to foster public interest in the protection of the ocean, the day is an important reminder to consider the vast array of life forms that call this precious natural resource home. Here at the RSPCA, you’ve heard us speak a lot about fish welfare, but did you know that cephalopods – the scientific term given to invertebrate sea creatures like squid and octopi – have some similar characteristics as fish including sentience and aversion to pain? And yet, they’re not always given the same legal protection for welfare as other animals. Read on to find out more about these fascinating creatures and what you can do to help.

Cephalopod – what’s in a name?

Cephalopods are a group of invertebrate animals that includes octopi, squid, cuttlefish, and nautili. They’re characterised by their prominent heads, tentacles, and of course, absence of a backbone! They do however possess a complex nervous system and well documented intelligence, with octopi demonstrating examples of advanced cognitive abilities in spatial learning capacity, navigation, reasoning, and problem solving.

Welfare protection is not always guaranteed.

Despite an abundance of evidence of their ability to suffer, their protection is not included under animal welfare legislation in the majority of Australian states.

This is due to most state legislation relying on the definition of ‘animal’ as vertebrate, with our animal welfare laws not evolving with advances in scientific knowledge. Currently, only the ACT, Queensland, and Victoria include cephalopods within the definition of ‘animal’ in certain circumstances. However, for Victoria, protection only relates to the use of cephalopods in research and does not cover commercial fishing.

The ACT and Queensland legislations provide better protection for the retail and commercial use of cephalopods, with obligations for retailers to provide appropriate food, water, and shelter, along with careful transportation with adequate space. For all other states and territories, no such requirements exist, and how cephalopods are treated during and following capture is at the discretion of those involved in the supply chain.

What you can do to support cephalopod welfare.

The RSPCA recognises cephalopods as sentient beings and their capacity to experience pain and suffering, and believes there should be uniform protection across Australia.

Until cephalopods are properly protected under all relevant state and territory animal welfare legislation, consumers can play an important role in raising the bar for better practices within the commercial fishing industry. If you choose to purchase octopi or squid products, ask the retailer about their animal welfare policy (if they have one) and take a look into their supply chain. Key information to look for can be the country of origin (always opt for Australian where possible), the catching method used, if the product is certified by a reputable third-party certification, and the stunning/slaughter method for the cephalopod.

Our responsible sourcing guides are a handy aid to help with gathering this information. By taking the time to be a conscious consumer when opting for seafood products, you are telling the fishing industry and the government that Australians care about marine animal welfare and want to purchase responsibly.


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