Sy Montgomery, author of “The Soul of an Octopus”

by | Jan 13, 2016

Sy Montgomery—author of 20 nonfiction books for adults and children, including the memoir about life with her pig, “The Good Good Pig,” and, most recently, “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness”–recalls growing up as a military brat, moving a lot, but animals (including a terrier and a parakeet) as her companions representing a central through line of her life during those formative years. SMontgomery33cw1From there, Montgomery explains, it was a vacation stint in Australia involving wombats and the 51O7Qa9liKL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_ensuing opportunity to return to the outback to study animals there—five years into a newspaper career on the science beat—that truly launched her on the decades-long vocation yielding all the animal-oriented books, as well as countless articles and columns. Montgomery describes how she became enchanted by octopuses through regular visits to the New England Aquarium in Boston, noting some of the biggest surprises about octopus traits, behavior and problem-solving she experienced. She recalls the immediate connection she felt with the first octopus she met at the Aquarium, Athena, enthusing about touching her and petting her, and long stretches where she was essentially, holding hands with her. octavia-the-octopus-592x399(Athena is pictured here.) By contrast, Montgomery observes that some human visitors did not get this sort of affectionate response, but instead, a blast of cold water…in some cases, every single time that person visited! “The Soul of an Octopus” details Montgomery’s efforts to get certified in scuba diving, enabling her to see the animals in nature in a variety of locales—in response to my question, she shares her view, after all her experiences in nature and at the Aquarium, of keeping octopuses in captivity. (

ALSO: I spoke briefly with Nicole Paquette, vice-president of wildlife protection at The Humane Society of the United States, about the announcement Ringling Bros. made two days earlier that it would retire jpg_141_20110106_02762-editits elephants from the circus shows in May—18 months before the 2018 originally announced. We addressed the implications of this decision, including what will happen at Ringling’s Elephant Conservation Center, which will then have 40 elephants living at a 200-acre (less than one tenth the size of the two main U.S. sanctuaries), where they will be subjected to cancer research, breeding, etc. (

COMEDY CORNER: Tom Shillue’s  “Animal Shows”    (

MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals

 NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE: David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” R.I.P., David Bowie


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