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Road to becoming an octopus trainer not a linear journey

  • Eve Barrs, 33, of the West Loop, said becoming an octopus trainer wasnt originally in her plans.
Eve Barrs, 33, of the West Loop, said becoming an octopus trainer wasnt originally… (Jessica Zerby/For RedEye )
October 10, 2013|By Matt Lindner @mattlindner | For RedEye

While she loves her job as Opal the octopus’s trainer, Eve Barrs, 33, of the West Loop, said becoming an octopus trainer wasn’t originally in her plans.

“Even when I came to Shedd, I did not expect to be working with an octopus, let alone training one,” said Barrs, an aquarist. “I had a freshwater background and had not met an octopus before I came to Shedd. Now, with my years of experience, we have an understanding, and it’s really cool.”

So how exactly does one become an octopus trainer then?

“I don’t know that there’s one particular route,” she said. “I was interested in fish and veterinary medicine when I went into undergrad, followed veterinary medicine for a while and then met fish and aqua culture and ran away with that.”

But, despite her years of experience before coming to Shedd Aquarium, Barrs said she didn’t just stick her hands in the tank on a whim and start working with her new eight-tentacled buddies.

“I had to learn a lot about the octopuses before I started working,” she said. “I did a lot of observation. I didn’t jump right in, interacting, feeding or touching this animal.”

Barrs said interacting with the cephalopods has had an impact on other phases of her life.

“Everything that I’ve learned here has definitely made me a better pet owner, maybe even friend,” she said. “I think maybe how my reactions to other people might be affecting me too. Because it’s all positive reinforcement, it’s absolutely how I interact with my cat at home now. It’s been fabulous, octopus or cat.”

She’s also noticed a change in her diet. After spending the day working with an octopus, Barrs said she’s developed an aversion to calamari.

“I didn’t eat a whole lot of it before so it wasn’t too hard to give up, but yeah, now I don’t mind if my friends do but I just picture my little cephalopod friends and I pass,” she said laughing.

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

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