Sea monsters may exist, but more often than not, humans are the frightening monsters attacking. Even in the case of cephalopods, humans seem keen on being “the better man”. This week’s topic? Octopus wrestling. Though it’s a bit of a misnomer seeing as the octopus generally tries to flee, not wrestle.
An early mention of octopus wrestling comes from Modern Mechanix magazine in 1949. It’s certainly an article of its time, however, as you’ll read:
Like to wrestle an octopus? I realize it all sounds like a loathsome sport but it’s really more fun than hunting some poor harmless creature. When you wrestle and kill an octopus, you’re ridding the marine world of a treacherous enemy.
Though the concept of the octopus being a “treacherous enemy” didn’t last, by 1957, octopus wrestling had gained some notoriety.
Octopus wrestling had not only gained notoriety, but became a competitive sport! Hundreds of spectators would watch as octopuses (octopi, octopodes…) An article in the Toledo Blade explained the rules of competition:
Competitors are divided into 3-man teams. Three heats are held with one man from a team entered in each heat. When the wrestler’s turn comes, he dives into Puget Sound unarmed and tries to find an octopus to drag to the surface.
Skin divers who use aqua-lungs get 1½ points for every pound of live octopus they can put on the scales; those who use only snorkels–short breathing tubes–get three points per pound.
During the 1957 competition in Washington, 200 people were present to witness a Portlander’s record haul of an 80-pound octopus. The sport continued to grow in popularity well into the 1960s, with an estimated 5,000 people arriving at the 1963 world championship.
The 1963 World Octopus Wrestling Championships were held in Washington as well. But things had gotten out of hand. Contracts had placed the competition on national television, leading to some changes in the program. Since octopuses don’t put up much of a fight, producers attempted to liven the show by placing octopuses on the beach. By the end of the competition, 20 were caught (by some of the 111 divers) weighing up to 57 pounds.
Opinions regarding the sport have completely turned around, with outrage becoming a frightfully standard response. Today, it has been made illegal in many places around the globe. But that won’t stop nature from participating.