Armed with affection, octogenarian is an ‘octopus whisperer’


BOSTON (AP) — Wilson Menashi palmed a squid in his left hand and extended his arm into an aquarium tank, watching as a giant Pacific octopus stretched out arms to greet him like a friend.

Freya latched some of her 2,240 suction cups onto Menashi’s arm, using their powers of taste and smell to gather information around the 84-year-old man known as the octopus whisperer — and the seafood treats he was bearing.

“She’s just contacting me and she’s saying, ‘You come to me,’” Menashi said of Freya, a 3-year-old predator weighing 35 to 40 pounds (18 kilograms). Her arms span 14 feet (4 meters) and pack enough strength to kill sharks and other enemies.

But this afternoon’s gentle interaction left no doubt that Menashi has a special way with the cephalopod, whose body includes a large, sac-like head and eight powerful arms.

More than 25 years ago, Menashi retired after a career as a chemical engineer and began volunteering at the New England Aquarium in Boston. He’s spent 7,800 hours — the equivalent of about four years working full time — hanging out with octopuses, the aquarium said.

“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 said, standing in front of the Olympic Coast Sanctuary exhibit that is home to Freya and Professor Ludwig Von Drake, a younger male giant Pacific octopus living in a separate tank.

Menashi’s eyes twinkled with mischief as he acknowledged that encounters with octopus have left a mark on him.

“I will come back home sometimes with hickeys all over my arm and my neck,” he said.

So how did he explain them to his wife?

“Not too difficult when you have about 10 or 15 marks next to each other,” he said. “It did not take too much. She also knew where I was, anyway.”