By Bryan Lynn
27 January, 2019

You might have heard of a "whisperer" – a person who has special skills to calm and train animals. Some of the most well-known whisperers work with horses or dogs.

American Wilson Menashi discovered long ago that he too had this kind of gift. However, the animal he feels closely connected to, the octopus, rarely has contact with people.

But that never stopped Menashi, now 84, from continuing to help aquarium workers who call him the octopus whisperer.

Menashi retired from a career as a chemical engineer 25 years ago. Shortly thereafter, he began volunteering at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Since then, the aquarium says he has spent 7,800 hours working there with octopuses. The time is equal to nearly four years of full-time work.

"I've been able to interact with them from the beginning," Menashi told the Associated Press (AP) about his involvement with octopuses. "I do not know why. I cannot explain it, but I can connect with them," he added.

In this Jan. 3, 2019, photo, 84-year-old Wilson Menashi, of Lexington, Mass., is reflected in the glass of an octopus tank at the New England Aquarium, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
In this Jan. 3, 2019, photo, 84-year-old Wilson Menashi, of Lexington, Mass., is reflected in the glass of an octopus tank at the New England Aquarium, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Menashi spoke to the AP while working with the octopuses. As he put his arm into a large tank, a giant Pacific octopus named Freya stretched out her arms to meet him, almost like a friend.

Freya immediately began putting some of her 2,240 suction cups onto Menashi's arm. An octopus uses the suction cups to taste and smell as it gathers information about its surroundings and other living things.

"She's just contacting me and she's saying, ‘You come to me,'" Menashi says of Freya. The 3-year-old octopus weighs about 18 kilograms. Her arms stretch about four meters in length and contain enough strength to kill sharks and other enemies.

But the interaction at the aquarium shows Menashi's special skills dealing with such dangerous sea animals. Looking happy and playful, he keeps touching the octopus.

He explains to the AP the sea creatures have left life-long impressions on him. But along with that, the octopuses also leave physical marks. "I will come back home sometimes with hickeys all over my arm and my neck," he said.

He is asked how he explains such marks to his wife. "Not too difficult when you have about 10 or 15 marks next to each other," he answers. "It did not take much. She also knew where I was, anyway."

Bill Murphy works at the aquarium. He told the AP Menashi's eye for detail, patience and willingness to experiment makes him the perfect octopus whisperer. "Every octopus is different. So then you can't use the same rules for every octopus," Murphy said. "You need to change it up. And Wilson does that."

Menashi says spending time with octopuses and other animals has given his life a whole new purpose in retirement.

"Just being here has been, to me, a lifesaver," he said. "Gave me something to do. Gave me different interests and showed me the world is a wonderful place to be," he added.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

whisperer n. a person who can tame and train a type of animal just by using the voice and gentle body movements

aquarium n. building people can visit to see water animals and plants

suction cup n. round piece often made of rubber material that sticks to surfaces when pressed against them

impression n. an effect or influence on the way someone feels or thinks

hickey n. a temporary red mark on someone's skin, often the neck, that may be caused by kissing

puzzle n. a game or activity in which places have to put pieces together or answer questions using skill

patience n. being able to stay calm and not get angry, especially when something takes a long time