A Call to Action for the Intelligent Beings of the Depths of the Ocean

Commentary by Jennifer Mishler, Staff Writer/Editor, Sea Shepherd USA

The Giant Pacific is the largest species of octopus in the world and are not well suited for aquariumsThe Giant Pacific is the largest species of octopus in the world and are not well suited for aquariums
Photo credit: Jennifer Mishler / Sea Shepherd
In September, I went to the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. to observe and document the exhibits and conditions in which the animals are living. One animal death after another, the zoo has claimed limited funding, among other attempts at justifications. They have since backtracked, saying that despite funding issues, they take proper care of the animals.

As I went through the invertebrates exhibit, I was disheartened to see the small tank housing a Giant Pacific octopus named Pandora. She was at the top of the tank, clinging to the back wall of her small world, watching as I stood there. When I look into the eyes of an octopus, I can see their remarkable intelligence, and can’t help but wonder what they make of me when they look back.

The Giant Pacific is the largest species of octopus in the world, sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds. Though some live to old age in captivity, they are not well suited for aquariums as they are nocturnal, live in the depths of the ocean and in the hidden darkness of caves. Octopuses are intelligent, complex beings who explore their natural ocean environment, and some will curiously investigate divers whom they encounter. Octopuses have even been known to cleverly get out of their tanks when confined in aquariums. Why are we subjecting them to a fate of imprisonment — one that they are clearly trying to escape?

While the photo does not show Pandora’s entire tank, it does give an idea of her size and what little ability she had to move around, hide from the crowds and light. The room was dimmed, though, and the photo was taken without flash, so it has been edited so that you are better able to see. This tank may have provided more room when the octopus arrived at the zoo, but it was not big enough for her at her full-grown size — including an arm span of more than seven feet long! The zoo has had octopuses prior to Pandora’s arrival in 2011, as well. I can only imagine what life must be like day in and day out in this barren tank.

The National Zoo announced last week that Pandora has died. She was five years old. This age is old for the Giant Pacific octopus, which lives an average of 3-5 years in the wild. The zoo was happy to report that Pandora died at an old age, but I can only think of how she lived confined to this tiny tank for two years of her five short years of life and wonder where she came from before that. What sort of quality of life did she really have?

When I heard of her death, I was sad that she was gone, but relieved that such an intelligent, amazing animal is no longer confined to the four walls of that tank. I hoped against hope that the National Zoo would not replace her, but the zoo has already announced plans to bring a new octopus to the exhibit. While the zoo has stated that they plan to restore the tank, I cannot imagine it will be adequate for a “giant.” The Giant Pacific octopus should be free in the depths of its ocean home, not treated as a decoration in a small tank. Though I could not free Pandora while she was alive, I promised that I will speak for her and try to make sure that the tank that once confined her remains empty. If the National Zoo is truly dedicated to education and protection for the Giant Pacific octopus, the National Zoo and organizations like it should work to protect them in the wild — not confine them to an inadequate tank on display for their short lives. Pandora should be the last octopus to suffer a sad life at the National Zoo. Please join Sea Shepherd in making that happen — for Pandora, and others like her.

CALL TO ACTION: There are no protections for invertebrates such as the Giant Pacific octopus in captivity, so the only thing that will stop the National Zoo from confining another octopus to this tiny tank is public pressure. Please join us in asking the Smithsonian National Zoo not to replace Pandora with another octopus.

Contact Information:

Mailing Address:

Friends of the National Zoo
P.O. Box 37012 MRC 5516
Washington, DC 20013-7012

Phone: (202) 633-4888

Email Contact Form

Smithsonian's National Zoo on Facebook

Smithsonian's National Zoo on Twitter

Executive Director Robert J. Lamb:
Phone: (202) 633-4379
Executive Office Fax: (202) 673-4738

Sea Shepherd
Why Just One NYC screening Q&A
Why Just One NYC screening Q&A
On December 16, 2016, the New York City chapter hosted the premiere of Why Just One? Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s first full length, in-house documentary. The sold-out event was Captain Paul Watson's his first New York appearance at a Sea Shepherd event since returning to the United States...
Sea Shepherd vs Poachers in the Gulf of California
Sea Shepherd vs Poachers in the Gulf of California
Six fishing boats engaged in illegal activities were spotted by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, ending in their arrest by the Mexican Navy.
Ghost Nets Go; Vaquitas Stay
Ghost Nets Go; Vaquitas Stay
Sea Shepherd and the M/V Farley Mowat break down how illegal underwater nets in the Sea of Cortez are snagged, pulled, cut and bundled. Footage also includes freeing and releasing live animals from the nets and cataloging those who unfortunately did not make it.
Sam Simon arrives in Mexico for Operation Milagro III
Sam Simon arrives in Mexico for Operation Milagro III
The Sam Simon has arrived in Mexico to join the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society-led campaign, Operation Milagro III. A partnership between Sea Shepherd and the Mexican authorities, Operation Milagro III intercepts, intervenes and interrupts any illegal activities found in the Vaquita refuge in the...
Divina Guadalupe Beaked Whale Research Project
Divina Guadalupe Beaked Whale Research Project
**If you cannot see the captions on this video, just click on CC on the lower right corner of video settings on the video ** #Breaking #SeaShepherd helps scientists learn more about #rare Beaked whales! Did you know that Cuvier's Beaked whales hold the record for the deepest mammalian dive? Watch t...
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is returning to Mexico’s Gulf of California for Operation Milagro III to save the near extinct vaquita marina porpoise and the endangered totoaba bass. The M/V Farley Mowat is back on active duty with the M/V Sam Simon joining the Milagro campaign for the first ti...
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
The Farley Mowat Sea Shepherd crew is called out to investigate a dead Brydes whale in the Gulf of California on November 5th, 2016 while patrolling the vaquita refuge. To help the Sea Shepherd crew to continue its work in the Sea of Cortez, including protecting the near-extinct vaquita marina porpo...
Entanglement in the South
Entanglement in the South
Operation Guardian Angel - In and around Bahia de Los Angeles, in the Gulf of California, countless marine species are entrapped in nets with little or no hope of rescue. Rosalia Tellez works for CONANP, a department of the Mexican government that acts as park rangers to enforce laws and assist in ...
Good and Bad Days
Good and Bad Days
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers over the course of two days. The first day Sea Shepherd locates and removes a long line from the sea; fortunately no animals were caught in the net. However, the next day volunteers find a sea lion that has been caught and died in a fisherman's net.
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Sea Shepherd campaign Operation Virus Hunter saw the vessel RV Martin Sheen under the leadership of Alexandra Morton, head up the coast of British Columbia Canada to expose open pen Atlantic salmon farms and the impact they are having on wild Pacific salmon and the the surrounding eco-systems.
Illegal Totoaba Nets
Illegal Totoaba Nets
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers through the process of locating, retrieving and disposing of illegal nets in the Gulf of California.
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
August 12th 2016: Early Thursday morning the R/V Martin Sheen assisted Melissa Willie, a band councilor of the Musgamagw Dza’wada’enuxw nation, in hand delivering a letter to three farms expressing the nations disapproval of the industry. Sea Shepherd crew alongside independent biologist Alexand...
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
Ross McCall travels to the Faroe Islands to explore the truths behind the centuries old tradition of the brutal Pilot Whale drives.
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Sea Shepherd Chairman of the Board, actor/activist Pamela Anderson, cautions viewers about the dangers of eating farmed salmon.
Why Just One?  Indiegogo Video
Why Just One? Indiegogo Video
Support Sea Shepherd's documentary by sharing and backing our Indiegogo campaign here: http://bit.ly/1OfvER6
Milagro Summary - English
Milagro Summary - English
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Operation Milagro II has come to an end. Milagro is its campaign to fight the looming extinction of the vaquita porpoise, the most endangered marine mammal in the world. With an estimate of less than 100 surviving vaquita, Sea Shepherd ships the R/V Martin Sheen...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Watch the crew of the Farley Mowat capture footage of illegal fishing activity with a night vision drone and pull up a totoaba net in the dead of night. This is the final vlog of Operation Milagro II!
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project is dedicated to collect samples from whales in the Gulf of California to measure levels of toxins in whales in order to determine the levels of toxins in the Gulf of California itself. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Never before seen footage. Sea Shepherd catches critically endangered totoaba poacher in the act. The Sea Shepherd crew filmed these totoaba poachers as they were checking one of their illegal nets in the protected vaquita habitat. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the wor...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Watch‬ the routine of our crew doing valuable work in the ‪Sea of Cortez‬. We have been very effective at removing illegal fishing gear from the ‪‎vaquita‬ porpoise's habitat. So much so, that now, most of the time we remove nets and lines that are mostly empty, our favorite thing to do....
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
The Sea Shepherd crew has found 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks in the month of march of 2016. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org/milagro2
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
While patrolling the waters of the upper Gulf of California the Sea Shepherd crew found a dead vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the whole world. The crew also found a Great White Shark caught in an illegal gillnet.
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
This week, the crew of ‪Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The M/V Farley Mowat and The RV Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass long line from the critically endangered ‪vaquita porpoise habitat. The totoaba fish is also critically endangered. Watch all episodes at: http...
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd crew rescued a whale entangled in an illegal totoaba gillnet in the Gulf of California. Sea Shepherd currently has two vessels in Mexico's Gulf of California on OPERATION MILAGRO. Our goal is to save the vaquita porpoises, the most endangered marine mammal. The vaquita are caught as a r...
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
You might know Gregg Lowe from X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now watch him explain Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro and understand why we must save the #VaquitaMarina - The most endangered cetacean in the world. Help us save the vaquita at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/donate-now/vaquita-appeal...