Science

Squid and Octopuses classed as sentient beings in the UK

squid and octopus
The UK have amended their Animal Welfare Bill. Source: Morten Brekkevold (via Flickr)

By Anna Thomas | Contributor

The UK have amended their Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill to include cephalopods and crustaceans following a report published by the London School of Economics earlier in November. The publication, which reviewed over 300 studies, concluded that animals such as squid and octopuses should be regarded as sentient and thus protected under the bill. 

Sentience, as it was described in the paper is “the capacity to have feelings, such as… pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort and excitement.” When establishing whether cephalopods and crustaceans come under this heading, LSE’s research focused primarily on whether they can experience pain. 

These creatures have a complex central nervous system, notably octopuses, who have ‘mini brains’ located in each of their arms. However, despite their neuronal system being vastly different to those seen in vertebrates, cephalopods and crustaceans have demonstrated the presence of opioid receptors meaning they respond similarly to painkillers. Furthermore, when exposed to painful stimuli such as boiling water, these animals have been witnessed to elicit attempts at escape, further illustrating their faculty for suffering. 

Cephalopods such as octopuses, which have the largest brain to body ratio of any invertebrate, have long been revered for their intelligence. Whilst stories such as those of Paul the psychic octopus, who predicted the outcomes of numerous world cup matches in 2010 have gained much traction in the press, there is a plethora of more substantiated evidence reflecting cephalopod’s advanced cognition. Markedly, one paper which tested cuttlefish’s ability to exert self-control found that these sea creatures successfully completed a task originally designed for testing human children, demonstrating they have cognition comparable to large-brained vertebrates such as chimpanzees. 

Unfortunately, whilst recognition of sentience is pertinent in the future of animal welfare, as it will prevent future implementation of unethical laws, the bill will have no effect on previously invoked practices. As such, contentious methods such as transporting animals in ice cold water or boiling them whilst still alive will continue unencumbered. 

When this bill comes into effect, the actions of the government with regards to cephalopod and crustacean welfare will be overseen by a committee of marine experts. Animal activists hope that this will mitigate the risk of new legislation harming such creatures in the future. 

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