Animals -> Marine Invertebrates -> Cephalopods -> Octopus


Octopus was reported to have been part of the diet of northwest coast Indigenous Peoples including the Makah, Quileute, Coast Salish (including Gulf of Georgia), Manhousat, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth), Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw), Nuxalk, Haihais, Bella Bella (Hieltsuk), Oowekeeno (Hieltsuk) and Southeast Alaskan cultures [1-12].

Octopus provided the Makah with a reliable food source and fish bait [6]. The Quileute used them to a large extent, often collecting them during fishing expeditions [12]. The Coast Salish considered octopus a delicacy [4, 5]. The Nootka, Southern Kwakiutl, and Nuxalk collected octopus throughout the year; however their concentration varied greatly [9, 10]. The Manhousat only ate them occasionally given that they believed that hunting octopus was very dangerous [11]. The Southeastern Alaskans ate small octopuses and used the larger ones as bait [2].


Octopus was found under rocks in shallow water and could be easily located by searching for discarded crab or clamshells [2, 11, 13-15]. They were usually caught with a two-pronged spear and sometimes two spears were used, one to poke the animal and entice it to leave its den and the other to stab it [11, 15-17]. They had to be lured out of the den as they are difficult to drag out [17]. They were also gathered from the beach by women and carried back in cedar baskets [14].

Octopus could be hung up to a week after being caught before being prepared for a meal or for bait [16]. Traditionally, only the tentacles were used, which were boiled until pink and then skinned [4, 11, 15, 16, 18]. The Coast Salish boiled pieces of the meat a second time in fresh water before eating it [4]. Southeast Alaskans believed that boiled octopus resembled cockles; they were also smoked and dried for later use [2]. The Manhousat often cut octopus tentacles into small pieces and fried them [11].

Uses other than food

Octopus legs were often used as bait to catch large fish, particularly halibut, cod, and shark [11, 15, 17, 19-21]. A piece of the tentacle was split lengthwise, attached to a hook, and sheared to resemble a small fish [11, 17]. In the past, the Manhousat used octopus skin to heal burns [11].

Octopus was widely known as devilfish and called hats’al by people of Port Simpson (Tsimshian) or sts’mas by Nuxalk [13, 22]. Devilfish were incorporated into many Tl’uhus myths and tales [16].

Although most literature does not specify which octupus species was consumed, the Pacific Giant Octopus was likely an important species for many groups. This species is known to be occasionally consumed by the Nuxalk [23] and to be caught and eaten by Coast Salish who referred to them as tá7kw’a [16].


1.         Gabriel L: Food and Medicines of the Okanakanes. Okanagan Historical Society Annual Report 1954, No. 18:21-29.

2.         Jacobs M, Jr., Jacobs M, Sr.: Southeast Alaska Native Foods. In: Raveu's Bones. edn. Edited by Hope A; 1982: 112-130.

3.         Olsen SL: Animals in American Indian Life: An Overview. In: Stars Above, Earth Below American Indians and Nature. edn. Edited by Bol MC. Dublin: Roberts Rinehart Publishers; 1998: 95-118.

4.         Government of British Columbia: Vol 1: Introduction to our Native Peoples. Victoria: British Columbia Department of Education; 1966.

5.         Barrett HG: Gulf of Georgia Salish: University of California; 1939.

6.         Renker AM, Gunther E: Makah. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington, DC: Smithsinian Institution; 1990: 422-426.

7.         Arima E, Dewhirst J: Nootkans of Vancouver Island. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990: 391-397.

8.         Hilton SF: Haihais, Bella Bella, and Oowekeeno. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990: 312-316.

9.         Jewitt JR: Captive of The Nootka Indians: The Northwest Coast Adventure of John R. Jewitt, 1802-1806. Boston: Back Bay Books; Distributed by Northeastern University Press; 1993.

10.       Kirk R: Daily Life. In: Wisdom of the Elders: Native Traditions on the Northwest Coast- The Nuu-chah-nulth, Southern Kwakiutl and Nuxalk. edn. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre in association with The British Columbia Provincial Museum; 1986: 105-138.

11.       Ellis DW, Swan L: Teachings of The Tides: Uses of Marine Invertebrates By The Manhousat People, vol. 1st edition. Nanaimo, B.C.: Theytus Books Ltd.; 1981.

12.       Powell JV: Quileute. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington: Smithsonian Institution; 1990: 431-432.

13.       Port Simpson Curriculum Committee: Port Simpson Foods: A Curriculum Development Project. In. Prince Rupert: The People of Port Simpson and School District No. 52; 1983.

14.       Conner DCG, Bethune-Johnson D: Our Coast Salish Way of Life-The Squamish. Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice-Hall Canada Inc.; 1986.

15.       Suttles WP: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians. In: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians The Economic Life of the Coast Salish of Haro and Rosario Straits. edn. New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc.; 1974.

16.       Bouchard R, Kennedy DID: Utilization of fishes, beach foods, and marine mammals by the Tl'uhus Indian People of British Columbia. In.: British Columbia Indian Language Project; 1974.

17.       Drucker P: The Northern and Central Nootkan tribes. Washington,D.C.: Government Printing Office; 1951.

18.       Emmons GT: Food and Its preparation. In: The Tlingit Indians. edn. Edited by de Laguna F. New York: American Museum of Natural History; 1991: 140-153.

19.       Barnett HG: Food; Occupations. In: The Coast Salish of British Columbia. Volume 1st edition, edn. Eugene: University of Oregon; 1955: 59-107.

20.       de Laguna F: The Story of a Tlingit Community: A Problem in the Relationship between Archeological, Ethnological, and Historical Methods. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office; 1960.

21.       Stewart H: Cooking and Preserving Fish. In: Indian Fishing. edn. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.; 1977.

22.       Thommesen H: Telling Time With Shadows: The Old Indian Ways. In: Bella Coola Man: More Stories of Clayton Mack. edn. Edited by Thommasen H. Madeira Park, B.C: Harbour Publishing; 1994: 24-45.

23.       Kuhnlein HV: Traditional and Contemporary Nuxalk Foods. Nutrition Research 1984, 4:789-809.

Octopuses are a type of cephalopod, like squids. They occur worldwide from the poles to the tropics. They are typically bottom-dwelling and are found from the inter-tidal zones to the deep ocean. In North America, octopuses are represented by the Pacific giant octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), occurring along the Pacific coast, from Alaska to Mexico. In French, octopuses are called pieuvres.

All octopuses have a soft bulbous body and eight arms with, along their full length, multiple suckers that have no stalk or horny ring like those found in squids. The Pacific giant octopus generally weighs around 50 kg, but the largest recorded specimen was over 250 kg.

Octopuses usually occupy sheltered rock crevices or excavated holes in firm sand or mud, from which they emerge to pursuit, catch and eat mostly crustaceans living on or near the sea bottom. They can swim or crawl, but they are mostly sedentary. In the Pacific giant octopus, it can take 2-3 years to reach maturity with a lifespan around 3-5 years. Many large fish, seabird, and marine mammal species prey on octopuses.


Boyle P, Rodhouse P: Cephalopods: ecology and fisheries. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science Ltd; 2005.


Images provided below were obtained from: Encyclopedia of Life. Available from
Pacific giant octopus
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Supplier: Invertebrates of the Salish Sea
This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network
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