Ross Frylink / (C) The Sea Change Project

April 26, 2021Oscar Win Highlights the Need to Protect Octopuses

Harvard's Animal Law & Policy Clinic has a pending petition with the National Institute of Health to include octopus within the definition of “animal,” so that they receive the minimum protection for “humane” handling when used in federally funded research.

Statement from Becca Franks, Research Scientist, Department of Environmental Studies, NYU and Jennifer Jacquet, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Studies, NYU:

“As researchers who study octopuses, we are thrilled that My Octopus Teacher, the 2020 Netflix film directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, won an Oscar for best documentary last night. However, we want the public to know that these fascinating creatures are still not considered “animals” by our federal government under the Animal Welfare Act or by the National Institutes of Health. This means that they are not required to be treated “humanely” like other animals used in research—despite the fact that because of their incredible cognitive, behavioral, and survival skills they have increasingly become a major subject of federally-funded research in recent years. Currently, thousands of these animals are being used in such research, yet, because they are not considered “animals” by NIH, they receive absolutely no protection from inhumane treatment. In June 2020, with help from Harvard Law School’s new Animal Law & Policy Clinic, we, along with many other leading scientists and some of the nation’s leading animal protection groups, petitioned NIH* to change this state of affairs and make sure that all cephalopods—octopus, squid, and cuttlefish—are considered “animals” worthy of being treated as humanely as other animals used in research. While, to date, NIH has not yet responded to this request, we hope that it will grant our petition so that these fascinating animals are treated with the humanity and respect they so richly deserve.”

*In December 2020, the Animal Law & Policy Clinic submitted additional exhibits in support of the petition, including My Octopus Teacher. One of the signatories of the Petition was a scientific adviser for the film.

For more information contact Sarah Pickering [email protected], 617-852-6484