The Kanaloa Octopus Farm in Kona on the Big Island once alleged it bred octopuses for food. On the other hand, the owner now says the purpose of the farm was research. No matter what was said, a hugely profitable petting zoo was being operated until last month. It was shut down for various reasons, which we’ll tell you about below. According to PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), this business “subjects animals to the stress of transport, alien environments, irregular feeding and watering, mishandling, and crowds of strangers.”
Farm made up to $108,000 a month through octopus petting.
Think about it from the animal’s point of view. You are a day octopus with a 1-year life span, captured and put into a big sink, then have 60 strangers a day petting you. For years the Kanaloa Octopus Farm operated in plain view. It was featured five years ago on a Honolulu TV Station in a segment sponsored by the Hawaii Island Visitors Bureau. After seven years in business, however, the farm was served with a cease and desist order in January. We’re left wondering why it took seven years to shut it down if the operation was not in accordance with the law.
Before it was closed, they were charging visitors $60 to pet a day octopus caught in the wild. The farm reportedly hosted octopus petting tours three times a day for a total of 60 visitors daily. It is reported that the farm holds from 15 to 20 animals in small 100-gallon tubs until they die.
The cease and desist order came from the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources.
The state told owner Jacob Conroy that the farm violated state law by possessing and breeding “regulated species of aquatic life without the required permits.” The state said it is also illegal to keep day octopuses of less than one pound, which may have been taken from a Big Island area without a permit.
Conroy claims that the allegations are incorrect and that he is working with the state to ensure complete compliance. He claims they do not “work with Day Octopuses under one pound.” He also claims that most farm octopuses come from local fishermen who typically sell them as fishing bait. Conroy said, “Our octopuses are typically injured animals others don’t want. We feed them and care for them, allowing them to recover.”
An interview with the farm manager conflicted with what the owner alleges. He said they work with octopuses of less than 1 gram in weight.” He also said that the animals come from someone “who actually catches them for us. He’s just really good at it. He just knows how to find octopus.”
The owner contradicted the employee and said that the octopuses being referred to are of the crescent variety, which is unregulated.
The state says a permit for “special activities” is needed to continue operations. If issued, which appears unlikely, that would permit taking or possessing the otherwise prohibited octopuses.
In the interim, visitors to the octopus farm should know that the operation is closed. We were told that the farm is now focused on squid farming instead.
Visitors may have been misled into thinking they were helping.
In countless comments found on social media, visitors noted that they were happy to be helping octopuses through these petting tours. One recent visitor said they were glad to be “Helping them survive. We enjoyed interacting with them: feeling their tentacles wrap around our fingers, watching them change colors, seeing them intrigued by toys, and even feeding them shrimp!”
Another recent comment included, “Being able to interact with the Octopuses and feel them wrapping their tentacles around my fingers was a truly exceptional and rare experience. Looking into their eyes… is amazing. Where else could you enjoy this experience?
But another visitor just before the operation was closed said, “We were saddened to see the octopuses in plastic tubs and not a natural environment. They have been trying to breed them since 1970 without success. This is not a research facility, as we are led to believe, but a tourist site. Octopuses are intelligent animals, and we were sorry we helped finance this business.”
Octopus farm runs afoul of both authentic research and animal rights.
The Kanaloa Octopus Farm has been criticized for its cruel treatment of day octopuses. The animals are described as intelligent, playful, and curious. It’s widely alleged that the operation was merely a very profitable “petting zoo” where wild animals were caught and imprisoned in “sinks” to entertain high-paying visitors.
On the other hand, the owner and farm manager both contend they are researching the breeding of day octopuses so that “in case anything ever does happen to the (wild) populations,” they will have the means to reintroduce them. That appears not to be the case, however. Scientists have said that raising octopuses from eggs in captivity is impossible. That has been tried and failed in both Spain and Japan.
More octopus legislation is upcoming.
States are looking to move against octopus farms after the Big Island one went public. Washington State has introduced a thus far unopposed bill to ban octopus farming. There is currently no federal or state protection for octopuses.