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By Olivia Kiers / July 5, 12:00 AM
Arms and the Man

New England Aquarium aquarist Bill Murphy talks “Tentacles Take Hold,” the beloved institution’s newest program


Bill Murphy knew he wanted to work with marine life after earning his degree in biological sciences at the University of Rhode Island, and began by volunteering with the New England Aquarium. Today, 11 years later, Murphy is a senior aquarist there, interacting with fascinating sea creatures every day. “I love animals,” he says, “and this place has such a great collection.”

As an aquarist, Murphy observes the creatures under his care, prepares their food and maintains exhibition systems and tanks. He develops close relationships with these animals, noting that many have distinct personalities. One of his favorites is a goosefish (a species of anglerfish) that has been at the aquarium for as long as Murphy himself. Goosefish use a lure to attract food, and Murphy noticed that every time he leaned over the tank, his goosefish would begin to lure, coaxing Murphy into feeding her. “Hey, I said to myself one day. Who is training who here?”

Other intelligent denizens of the aquarium include two giant Pacific octopuses named Anna and Sy. (Murphy always spends a few weeks getting to know new octopuses before naming them, in order to accurately reflect their personalities.) Anna and Sy are part of the aquarium’s “Tentacles Take Hold” summer focus on octopuses, sea jellies and cuttlefish, as well as the stars of a new, recently expanded Olympic Coast exhibition on Pacific Northwestern marine life.

Letting tentacles take hold of your imagination as you dive into the Olympic Coast is a fun reason to visit the New England Aquarium this summer, yet hardly the only one. “There is such a diversity of life on display here, and we try hard to educate the public about conservation, too,” says Murphy. One way in which the aquarium links conservation with its mission is with the recent establishment of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, which will unify the aquarium’s existing research and conservation departments. The aquarium even serves sustainable seafood dishes like clam chowder and lobster rolls outdoors on its plaza at The Reef during the summer months (noon to 9 p.m. daily). With fascinating exhibitions, cutting edge research and dining on the harbor, the New England Aquarium is one of Boston’s top spots. 

And of course, Anna and Sy are waiting to meet you! 

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