Cephalopod Citizen Science

Email: gavan.cooke@anglia.ac.uk



Although well studied in some scientific disciplines (e.g. neuroscience, aquaculture, animal physiology, ethology), the wild behavioural ecology and fisheries/conservation status of many cephalopods remain a mystery (e.g. single observation of wild Sepia officinalis behaviour – Allen et al., 2017). Compelling evidence (see Andrews et al., 2013) suggests that cephalopods can suffer and feel pain. As a result, they are protected in some parts of the world in a scientific context but no guidance exists on wild animal welfare. Unlike marine mammals, marine fish, sharks and crustaceans, cephalopods damage very easily and become exhausted when pursued by divers who are used to interacting with animals that have evolved for fast and or long periods of swimming. Furthermore, reports exist of local scale extinction of species once very common (e.g. The Common Cuttlefish Sepia officinalis in parts of Devon, UK). In cooler climates, where important taxa reside, there are often few or no in situ studies, which requires a greater level of SCUBA training to conduct, compared to warmer waters. In addition, UK/EU laws making diving ‘at work’ (which includes data collection) extremely expensive. Citizen science is becoming a more widely used tool to fill gaps where little funding exists (Dickinson et al 2010). In the UK alone there are ~7500 cold water SCUBA divers (based on membership of UK SCUBA water visibility reports group) who dive all year round.


1) To collect data regarding wild cephalopods in the NE Atlantic and the Mediterranean   Sea

2) To make SCUBA divers aware of how best to interact with cephalopods

3) To engage with the citizen scientists in a number of meaningful ways


  • Having seen many videos and images uploaded to various forms of social media we created a Facebook group specifically for reporting observations of cephalopods in the NE Atlantic – search “UK Cephalopod Reports”
  • Due to the immediate success of this group, eight more groups were created with the help of students at Anglia Ruskin University
  • The new groups covered areas with languages in the NE Atlantic and also the Mediterranean Sea. New international groups (in corresponding languages): Italy, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands & Belgium, France and Germany
  • To help educate the public on cephalopods broadly, we wrote ID guides for the regions which were translated into the relevant local languages
  • Guides included potential warning signals provided by cephalopods (and see Cooke & Tonkins 2015) to help SCUBA divers avoid stressing them
  • Lead author conducted a speaking tour of the SW UK SCUBA groups to promote the project in person and to engage with those providing the data
  • Surveys were conducted after the talks to measure behavioural changes in the SCUBA divers

Facebook groups exit for the follow countries:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1772714999700580/  UK

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2174636599425322/   France

https://www.facebook.com/groups/517421225370635/   Malta

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2174636599425322/   Portugal

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1011071792400550/   Germany

https://www.facebook.com/groups/296286464253698/   Spain

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2643286519030143/   Cyprus

https://www.facebook.com/groups/227541027966588/   Italy

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1915579675410208/   Netherlands/Belgium


Membership and observations provided

  • After 12 months the groups have ~1000 members who have provided ~ 1400 images or videos. Analytics show rapid growth in membership, posts and reach

Scientific findings (being analysed)

  • New data on UK squid egg laying sites and behaviours, vital for fisheries assessment currently being written up into a peer reviewed article with CEFAS
  • We have received a high number of video observations for key or new behaviours, such as: male-male competition (cuttlefish and bobtail squid); female aggression (cuttlefish); sleeping and resting (cuttlefish); schooling and shoaling (cuttlefish); burying behaviours (octopus); habitat preference (octopus); hunting strategies (cuttlefish, bobtail squid); egg laying preferences (squid, cuttlefish) and many more
  • Analysis of behaviours are ongoing but include; social network analysis; hierarchical cluster analysis of behaviours by species and reproductive phenotype; sequential analysis of agonistic interactions; alternative mating strategies and many more

Societal Impact

The project has already received widespread national and international exposure:

  • BBC worldwide website (500,000 reach)
  • BBC Radio Wales (50,000 reach)
  • The Conservation article x 2 (36,000 + 4000 reach)
  • SCUBA magazine article on wild cephalopod welfare (25,000 reach)

Self-funded public speaking tour of SW England saw a:

  • 2100% rise in observations posted to the groups
  • 96% of responders agreed to share more observations with 100% agreeing that they will change their behaviour when diving with cephalopods
  • The Royal Society Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) have invited the lead author to give a talk on wild cephalopod welfare in early 2019
  • Observations provided to the project are being collated into an art exhibition to be displayed at Anglia Ruskin University Ruskin Gallery and at the Cambridge Science Festival (UK) in spring 2019

Download (PDF, 1.5MB)

Poster presentation for CIAC 2018


Spider diagram describing the threads for each strand of the project


Flyer to promote self funded talk, describing Cephalopod biology and the project

Live streamed video of the talk given on the self-funded tour of the South West UK. Video recording created and donated by Dive South, UK