PETA asks Red Wings to punish octopus throwers

Al Sobotka holds up an octopus thrown on the ice prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Detroit Red Wings and the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/tam/" data-ylk="slk:Tampa Bay Lightning">Tampa Bay Lightning</a> during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 17, 2016 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Wings defeated the Lightning 2-0. (Getty Images)
Al Sobotka holds up an octopus thrown on the ice prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Detroit Red Wings and the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 17, 2016 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Wings defeated the Lightning 2-0. (Getty Images)

The animal rights organization PETA has sent a letter to the Detroit Red Wings encouraging the team to fine and eject “those who bring an octopus into the arena or are caught throwing one on the ice” at one of the organization’s final two games at Joe Louis Arena this weekend.

Octopus throwing by Red Wings fans is a playoff tradition started by team supporters in 1952 and became a symbol of Detroit’s run of success in the 90s and 2000s

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Here is the letter by PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk that was sent to Red Wings president and CEO Christopher Ilitch.

I’m writing on behalf of PETA and our more than 5 million members and supporters—including thousands across Michigan, with many sports fans among them—in advance of the final two games of the season at Joe Louis Arena and reports that fans will bring octopuses to throw on the ice. We strongly urge you to prohibit them from flinging these intelligent animals—dead or alive—onto the ice this weekend and to check attendees for concealed octopuses at the door. Please levy a $5,000 fine against those who bring an octopus into the arena or are caught throwing one on the ice. In addition, immediately eject them from the game and permanently ban them from all future Red Wings games.

Octopuses are extraordinarily intelligent and self-aware and have 10,000 more genes than humans do. Like other sea animals—including fish—they use tools, communicate with one another, and form social bonds. They’ve even been observed using coconut shells as shelter and wielding the poisonous tentacles of Portuguese men-of-war like swords. They can navigate mazes, solve puzzles, and open childproof jars. And everyone remembers Inky, the octopus who climbed out of an aquarium tank, traversed the floor, and slid down a 164-foot pipe to freedom. They are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain. It’s no more acceptable to kill them for a decades-old tradition than it is to harm any other living beings. Please, won’t you prohibit fans from engaging in such insensitive acts?

We hope you will issue a statement to all fans that throwing octopuses on the ice will not be tolerated. Perhaps you can encourage them to purchase and throw stuffed octopuses to celebrate their team’s success, without making light of cruelty to animals. Thank you for your consideration.

In the past, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been critical about how longtime arena operations manager Al Sobotka twirled around the octopus after it was picked up. Bettman even threatened a $10,000 fine to the Red Wings in 2008 if Sobotka swung the octopus.

“Actually, there’s a very good reason for it. We haven’t fined or given a delay of game penalty for the throwing of the octopus because we understand and respect the tradition,” Bettman said in the past. “Having said that, when you swing the octopus around – and I don’t know the exact term for it – but octopus ‘gunk’ gets on the ice and occasionally has gotten on the players — the goaltenders – as it goes by. Occasionally, when it freezes on the ice, it creates a potentially hazardous situation for the players. It’s not about interfering with a tradition; it’s about making sure nobody gets it in their eyes, like a goaltender nearby, or that nobody blows out a knee getting caught on some frozen gunk.”

During a 2011 playoff game, a fan said he was kicked out of Joe Louis Arena and fined $500 for tossing an octopus on the ice.

The Red Wing released a statement afterwards saying, “The throwing of objects onto the ice surface is prohibited by the National Hockey League and persons caught doing so may be subject to prosecution for violating local and state laws.”

Last year after disgruntled Flyers fans tossed light-up bracelets on the ice during a playoff game, Bettman slammed the throwing of items, other than hats for hat tricks, at NHL arenas. In this interview he addressed the octopus.

“An occasional octopus, I’m not justifying it, is certainly different than 10,000 rats,” Bettman said. ”They do a good job at Joe Louis (Arena) of getting the octopi off the ice as quickly as possible. And they don’t swing it around anymore because you can get octopus goop on the ice or on a player’s jersey.”

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Red Wings fans aren’t the only group that has a tradition of throwing an underwater creature on the ice at points during playoff games. Nashville Predators supporters do the same with a catfish and in 2014 PETA sent that team a letter as well.

Earlier this season, PETA criticized the NHL for using live penguins at the Stadium Series game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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