The Soul of an Octopus is more than just a science book. It is a rich exploration of one of Earth’s most intelligent and elusive animals: the octopus.
Sy Montgomery is a naturalist and author and has been involved in a number of fascinating projects, each leading to a successful book.
Perhaps one of her most successful works is ‘The Soul of an Octopus’, which details her time working at the New England Aquarium with several of their giant Pacific octopuses.
Throughout the book, we are introduced to people of all ages and disciplines, each coming together and forming a bond through their shared love of marine life.
We are also, of course, introduced to the octopuses themselves, Athena, Octavia, Kali, and Karma: each described with distinct personalities. These animals display such unique identities, that when reading, one might forget they are not reading about a fellow human, but in fact about an eight-legged invertebrate.
We are first introduced to Athena, the resident octopus at the New England Aquarium when Sy Montgomery first arrived. She is described as ‘gentle’ and ‘friendly’, as we are taken through the motions of meeting an octopus first hand.
Throughout the rest of the book, we meet three more octopuses. After Athena came Octavia, a fully grown giant Pacific octopus caught in the wild and transported to the aquarium. She was estimated to be over two years old already; giant Pacific octopuses can live to be 4-5 years old.
Having been raised in the wild, Octavia displayed a contrasting attitude to Athena, who had been reared in the aquarium for most of her life. Octavia was initially reserved and untrusting, however, she soon became more comfortable with the Aquarium staff.
Kali was a younger octopus who was to become Octavia’s replacement when the time came. She was curious, with a keen sense of exploration and longing to escape.
After Kali, came Karma, a ‘beautiful’ octopus with a deep love of human interaction.
When I picked up ‘The Soul of an Octopus’, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Perhaps I expected an in-depth analysis into the anatomy and behaviour of cephalopods.
One thing is for sure: I didn’t expect an insightful and deeply personal account of the relationships between mankind and cephalopod. I was pleasantly surprised, and I couldn’t recommend this book enough for any animal enthusiast.
The octopus is an ironic creature. For one filled with such vivid charisma, intelligence, and personality, it is a true tragedy that many do not live past two years of age. It is a humbling reminder that life is fleeting, and we should do whatever we can to make the most of it.
For me, meeting an octopus would be a giant step in the right direction.
Written by Lucas King