Perry, the  Aquarium’s props coordinator, dissects a naturally deceased giant Pacific octopus.

I like to think I have a strong stomach, but the stench is starting to overwhelm me. I gag slightly as I walk away from the table, hoping to find a pocket of fresh Wet Lab air to breathe in. Meanwhile, Perry Poon, the Aquarium’s props coordinator, is dealing with the smell like a champion.

“There’s nothing like cephalopod smell. It’s just so strong and… so rancid.”

I’ll say.

He is dissecting a giant, naturally deceased Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini).

Perry holds the octopus's beak.

Perry holds the octopus’s beak.

Perry tells me that dissections help him learn about anatomy, which is great for the guy who salvages body parts from naturally deceased animals to be used as props in educational programs. Today, he’s looking for the beak, the part of the octopus’s mouth that resembles a parrot’s beak.

When frozen specimens come across Perry’s desk (so to speak) he gives them some time to thaw. This octopus has thawed overnight and is now neatly laid out in a large plastic container. When it was alive, it could have spread its eight arms to approximately 7.3 metres across, about the length of four tall guys. It’s sitting in water now, so it remains soft and supple enough to cut.

Perry has done hundreds of dissections. He says the weirdest one was dissecting a Humboldt squid, which comes as a bit of a surprise to me since he says he’s done the most squid dissections over any other animal. But the Humboldt squid is much larger than any squid he’s used to dissecting, up to ten times larger, so he says it was weird to see all the body parts that he’s familiar with be much larger.

After a while, it’s time for me to head out of the Wet Lab in search of fresh air. Perry says a quick bye to me before putting his head down to continue working on the octopus, oblivious to the stench that has grown around him.

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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