How to interact with cephalopods

We have published scientific research showing that we can use cephalopod signals to understand how they feel about their environment (e.g., Tonkins et al., 2015, Cooke and Tonkins 2015) and written extensively on the best environments for maintaining high cephalopod welfare (Cooke et al., 2019). We have also studied and published research on how SCUBA divers interact with cephalopods, both positively and negatively (Cossons and Cooke 2021). Just recently other researchers have shown that inking damages the liver and other important tissues (Jiang et al., 2019)

From our research and current understanding of cephalopod science:

  • Compelling and abundant evidence suggests that these animals can suffer and feel pain.

  • Unlike marine mammals, marine fish, sharks, and crustaceans, cephalopods damage very easily.

  • If damaged, cephalopods may not recover from their injuries, they do not easily repair their skin like fish/sharks and do not have hard shells like crustaceans.

  • They become exhausted when pursued by divers, who are used to interacting with animals that have evolved for fast and or long periods of swimming.

  • Most cephalopods are very poor swimmers, and chasing them exhausts them easily, this could lead to being eaten by predators more easily.

Tips on increasing stress-free interactions

  • Try and keep at least 1.5m from the cephalopod, if they are of a curious disposition, they will come to you. Let them choose the level of interaction with you.

  • They have individual personalities, some may always want to play, some may never want to, allow them to choose. Some days you will be lucky other days you might not.

  • Species you see on TV may not be like the species you come across, they are all different in their desire to interact with humans.

  • Look out for their warning signals (below). If you see them just move back a little bit and allow the cephalopod to relax in your presence.

  • Do not chase after them – if you do they may jet into something and damage themselves or become exhausted, we found that octopuses spend up to 80% of their time with divers retreating from them.

  • Although known for their inking behaviour, this is a very last resort for them, so do not wait for that to happen before considering changing how close you are to them, inking damages their livers and other important tissues.

  • If an octopus is in a den do not force it into leaving, it may be a female brooding eggs, which will not develop if she is not around.

  • If an octopus is covering a rock with its webbing, and flashing colours, it may be hunting, and those signals won’t be for you so sit back and watch without disturbing.

  • Cephalopods can also hurt you: although most cephalopods will try to camouflage or escape if they feel threatened, some might also bite you if they are handled and stressed. The bites are painful and may contain venom, which can cause an allergic reaction or infection (This is another good reason to avoid grabbing them).

  • Some octopuses use shells, cans, bottles, tires, or other objects as shelter, so before removing any of these from the bottom, please verify if it is the home of an octopus. If so, leave the object in the place where you found it or somewhere nearby. Some cuttlefish lay eggs under coconut shells, so be careful if moving objects.

  • Release accidental catches or stranding: If you accidentally catch a cephalopod during fishing activities or one "falls" inside your boat (for example, flying squids), try to return them to the sea as quickly as possible. If you notice that it moves little, try to release it away from the area with waves, near rocks or algae where it can take refuge from predators while it recovers. If you find one stranded onshore and still moving, place it in a container with seawater and carefully release it away from the swell zone or surf zone.



Signs that a cephalopod is unhappy with your presence

















 Various warning displays by cephalopods: A-E Decapodiform cephalopods, (cuttlefish, bobtails and squid) seem to use variants of the flamboyant display, flattening of the body and may even use false spots or ghosting/blanche (all white display) to deter threats. Octopus (F/G) do not use the flamboyant display; they rely on making themselves large, often with dark red eyes contrasting the ghost/blanche display. Photographs courtesy of Tamsyn Mann, Luke Peters and Gavan Cooke.


Cooke, G. M & Tonkins, B. M. 2015 Behavioural indicators of welfare exhibited by the common European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research 3(4)

Tonkins, Belinda M., Alexandra M. Tyers, and Gavan M. Cooke. 2015 “Cuttlefish in captivity: An investigation into housing and husbandry for improving welfare.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 168 (77-83).

Cooke, G.M., Tonkins, B.M. and Mather, J.A., 2019. Care and enrichment for captive cephalopods. In The welfare of invertebrate animals (pp. 179-208). Springer, Cham.

Jiang, M., Zhao, C., Yan, R., Li, J., Song, W., Peng, R., Han, Q. and Jiang, X., 2019. Continuous inking affects the biological and biochemical responses of cuttlefish Sepia pharaonis. Frontiers in physiology, 10, p.1429.

Cossons, G, P. & Cooke, G, M. 2021 Investigation into SCUBA diver/cephalopod encounters from social media uploads. Under review at a peer-reviewed journal.