Wilson Menashi is the octopus whisperer.
He’s also 84-years-old. The retired former chemical engineer needed something to do with his time since getting out of the chemical biz 25 years ago and decided that volunteering at the New England Aquarium in Boston would be just the ticket.
Somehow, volunteering at the aquarium turned Menashi into an octopus expert.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Menashi reveals his special relationship with Freya, a 3-year-old Pacific octopus. One of the largest species of cephalopod on earth, the Pacific octopus can weigh up to 40 lbs and have an arm span in the range of 14 feet. Those arms are covered in 2,240 suction cups which allows her to pull objects with surprising force.
And yet all eight arms embrace Menashi in the octopus version of a hug. Or a wrestling match, it’s kinda hard to tell the difference.
“I’ve been able to interact with them from the beginning. I do not know why. I cannot explain it, but I can connect with them,” Menashi told the Associated Press.
In addition to playing with the octopuses by wrestling or just rubbing their bulbous heads, Menashi also designs puzzles and games for the octopuses to solve. Usually, those toys involve locking away a bit of food in a box which requires the octopus to find a way of accessing.
“What I find totally surprising is how they could tell different people and react differently,” Menashi said. “I’ve also made them a few toys, made up some boxes and ... I put different latches so they could get in and figure out how to get the food that I put in the boxes. However, I’ve had some that said, ‘It’s too much time to figure out how you do the latch.’ So they just crushed the box.”
Octopuses are highly intelligent creatures (with some scientists saying they’re more intelligent than dogs) and these games help maintain the cephalopod’s mental and physical health. Otherwise, octopuses can get up to all kinds of mischief thanks to their many arms and super squishy body.
Menashi loves interacting with the octopuses and says that it’s given him a new purpose in his retirement. “Just being here has been, to me, a lifesaver,” he said. “Gave me something to do. Gave me different interests and showed me the world is a wonderful place to be.”