Wilson Menashi, an 84-year-old volunteer who has logged over 8,000 hours at the New England Aquarium, was honored last Thursday along with other volunteers for devoting an extraordinary amount of his time and energy. The aptly named “octopus whisperer” has volunteered at the aquarium for almost 25 years and says the interaction he gets from the majestic sea creatures is reward enough for him.
He began volunteering after he retired as an engineer. He said his choice to volunteer at the aquarium came as he sought to fulfill his passion for marine wildlife and the ocean. After a couple of years, they received octopuses in the aquarium.
“When we first started with the octopus about 23, 24 years ago, nobody dared touched them,” he recalled. He was the first, he said, and had to get adjusted to the suction cups on the tentacles. “I’m comfortable with them, and they feel it,” he said.
You get a lot of hickeys on your hand. How do you explain a whole armful of hickeys to your wife, but she understood,” he joked. “They definitely all had entirely different personalities. They’re very intelligent. They will react with you and they want something to do.”
Incredibly, Menashi went above and beyond, building them boxes with latches for the octopuses to learn how to open. Inside the boxes were crabs as incentive. Octopuses are very intelligent creatures, displaying impressive cognitive abilities. Menashi said he built the boxes “just to challenge them a little bit. See what they could do.”
“Wilson really enjoys their intelligence and interacting with them,” said Bill Murphy, a marine biologist. “And it’s very different from octopus to octopus, so it always keeps it new and interesting.” Menashi vowed to continue working “as long as I can.” At the dinner to honor the 1,000 volunteers the aquarium requires for day-to-day operations, Menashi was placed front and center.