Laura Lee Cascada / The Every Animal Project / We Animals Media
Laura Lee Cascada / The Every Animal Project / We Animals Media

August 22, 2023, Cultural Practitioners, Marine Wildlife Advocates Succeed in Shutting Octopus Petting Zoo

For Immediate Release: 22 August 2023

Update – (August 22): The Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic has confirmed that Kanaloa Octopus Farm (KOF) is no longer operating at HOST Park, and the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) has chosen not to renew its rental agreement. “We’re relieved that KOF’s days of capturing and confining octopuses to barren touch tanks are through, and hope this sends a clear message that cephalopod farms have no place in a society that respects animals. Kudos to the many advocates who spoke out against this octopus petting zoo, particularly our clients For the Fishes and Mike Nakachi,” said Rachel Mathews, Acting Clinic Director.

In addition to the tireless work of our clients other actions, which helped to secure this victory, included an investigation by The Every Animal Project, a report by Compassion in World Farming, thousands of activists mobilizing to contact the Hawaiian government including support from Plant Based Treaty, and investigative work by Sentient Media. In addition, We Animals added footage and photos to its archive that helped to garner greater media attention.


Kailua-Kona, HI  – Today (July 11), a coalition of native Hawaiian and marine wildlife advocates—including Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Hawaii-based For the Fishes, and Moku o Keawe cultural practitioner Mike Nakachi—submitted complaints to the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA), located in Kailua-Kona, urging the agencies to further investigate longstanding apparent violations of law at the Kanaloa Octopus Farm (KOF), a petting zoo that has likely illegally acquired and possessed dozens of reef dwelling day octopuses for paid tourist interactions.

In January, DAR notified KOF that capturing octopus for aquarium purposes and possessing undersize day octopus without a permit violate Hawaii’s laws protecting aquatic life. The coalition is urging DAR to take further enforcement action against the facility, which closed to the public a few weeks after receiving DAR’s letters but plans to reopen.

Following DAR’s letters, NELHA asked KOF to submit a new business plan and reapply for tenancy at its Hawaii Ocean Science & Technology (HOST) Park, where the petting zoo has operated for eight years. The coalition is asking NELHA to terminate KOF’s lease, arguing that allowing an extractive petting zoo to operate on state land violates a provision of Hawaii’s Constitution known as the public trust doctrine, which requires agencies to protect the state’s natural resources from unjustifiable harm.

The coalition further contends that KOF’s activities undermine Native Hawaiian cultural beliefs and practices, which state agencies are constitutionally obligated to protect. Kanaloa is a Hawaiian deity and one of his most important kinolau (physical forms) is the he’e (octopus).

“Kanaloa and his kinolau have deep spiritual meaning to Native Hawaiians,” says Mike Nakachi. “Using Kanaloa’s name to commercially exploit the he’e is an affront to the important role these animals play in our traditions, values, and practices, such as subsistence fishing: to take only what is needed; and lawai’a pono: knowing how something will be replaced before you take it.”

“Octopuses are solitary animals who should not be subjected to handling by looming tourists,” adds Noam Weiss, LLM ’23, of Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “These cognitively sophisticated animals have complex needs that can’t be met in captivity and using them as petting zoo props is a recipe for suffering.”

KOF reported earning more than $1.5 million in 2022 by charging tourists $50 or more to handle the octopuses, who are held in barren plastic wash tubs. The facility holds approximately 20 day octopuses at any given time, and must continually capture new animals because octopuses only live for about one year. KOF has claimed its goal is to ultimately breed day octopuses for sale to the aquarium pet trade and for their ink and body parts. However, it has never been able to keep the wild-caught species’ offspring alive. With each hatching, tens of thousands of young die, who if left in the wild would have naturally replenished the species’ population.

“Octopus farming is devastating to the welfare of individual animals and ecologically unsustainable,” says Ricardo Diaz-Alarcon, LLM ’23, of Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “NELHA must not permit KOF’s octopus experiment to continue without first considering the harms inherent to this business model.”

“Octopuses are important inhabitants of Hawaii’s coral reefs,” adds Rene Umberger, For the Fishes founder and Executive Director. “Every octopus taken from her wild natural home so a visitor can literally ‘pay to play’ negatively impacts local communities, the species, and our entire fragile reef ecosystem.”


For more information or interview requests, please contact:

Sarah Pickering, Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic, [email protected], 617-852-6484

Rene Umberger, For the Fishes, [email protected], 808-283-7225

Mike Nakachi, Moana Ohana, [email protected], 808-640-3871

Images available via We Animals Media.

Notes to Editors

About For the Fishes

Through consumer education, scientific research, and advocacy, Maui-based For the Fishes works to reduce the demand for coral reef fish and other tropical wildlife that have been captured unsustainably from the wild for display in saltwater aquariums.

About Moana Ohana

Mike Nakachi is a Kona-based Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner who comes from a family of kahu manō (shark guardians). He owns Moana Ohana, a scuba diving company that leads dives throughout the Hawaiian Islands and educates people about sharks’ cultural and ecological significance. Mr. Nakachi is a member of the West Hawai’i Fisheries Council.

About Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic

The Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School is committed to analyzing and improving the treatment of animals through the legal system. The Program engages with academics, students, practitioners, and decision-makers to foster discourse, facilitate scholarship, develop strategic solutions, and build innovative bridges between theory and practice in the rapidly evolving area of animal law and policy. In 2019 it launched the Animal Law & Policy Clinic to provide students with direct hands-on experience in animal advocacy on behalf of farmed animals, wildlife, animals used in research, entertainment, and in other forms of captivity, using strategies including litigation, legislation, administrative practice, and policy-making.