Cities & Towns

A Call to Arms


On Cape Cod, a many-limbed badge of belonging.

BY LAURA POPPICK ILLUSTRATION BY JANICE WU

Wildsam

Updated

8 Jan 2024

Reading Time

2 minutes

On my last trip to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, I found myself surrounded by tentacles. Tentacles wrapped around legs. Tentacles clinging to earlobes. Tentacles encircling fingers.

It was my first time visiting since spending a college semester there a decade before. The little village at the tip of Cape Cod’s elbow is the Dollywood of marine science. No matter where you go, you’re a short walk from the sea. You’re constantly rubbing elbows with scientists studying octopus eyes, hydrothermal vents, the microbial civilizations thriving inside whales. During the summer, you can tour one of several marine labs. On some lucky nights, you can swim in bioluminescent coves.

I’d come for a research rendezvous called TONMOCON, a biennial confab of a few dozen cephalopod nerds. Yes, cephalopods: the tentacled, undersea creatures that change shape and color in a flash and have the most complex brains of any invertebrate; the octopuses and cuttlefish and squid that pulse through the ocean’s inky depths—and whose tentacles adorned the clothing and jewelry of every attendee but me.

Known for its six research institutions. Also, legendary striper fishing off Nobska Point.

After ogling tanks of baby bobtail squid, their mantles shimmering blue and magenta, we mingled in a room with a table full of cephalopod swag. I grabbed a cuttlefish charm I thought would look great on a necklace. When a camera was raised for a group selfie, every inkfish aficionado in the place lifted their fingers to their chins and wiggled them like the silky arms of a cuttlefish. My hand bobbed up to my face just in time.

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