Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Wo, Nemo! Toss a lasso to me now!

The news: A Japanese crew has taken the first pictures of a live giant squid.

The news to me: There's never been a picture of a giant squid alive before? I guess not. The only picture I have in my head is of one attacking the Nautilus in the 1954 film of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

UPDATE: The New Yorker has posted its 2004 article about squid hunter Dr. Steve O’Shea here.

On the Octopus News Magazine online forum, O'Shea is quite magnanimous: "They didn't even need to do the DNA to know (I found it quite surprising that they did this), because Ku (Dr Tsunemi Kubodera) is one of the best there is. He is also one of the nicest of people you will ever meet, and the most deserving to have achieved what nobody else has managed to do. I think that this is the best news ever for natural history, and hopefully it will result in the end of BS programming standards, this so-called reality TV, and a return to proper expedition-style documentaries. It can only get better!"

O'Shea, the forum's moderator, and other Architeuthis enthusiasts have been breathlessly discussing the news. Writes Clem:
How exciting is this?

After reading the first Reuters news item, I reached for a cigarette. Then I decided I should eat something, instead. Then I thought I should drink some more coffee, but not before reaching for a cigarette, which I attempted to place above my ear, dislodging the first cigarette I'd already stuck there. Then I ran around the room, drank some coffee, and reached for another cigarette, having forgotten about the two I'd already pulled from the pack. Now, I've eaten my cinammon buns, and have a goofy smile plastered across my face.

Architeuthis on camera, at depth and alive. It happened in our lifetimes, folks. Holy ****.

I need a cigarette.
Later on, there's some interesting discussion of how the squid's tentacle may have become detached: Was it ripped from its body, or did the squid bite off its own tentacle with its beak in order to escape? Writes Tintenfisch:
Kubodera & Mori report that the squid made repeated attempts to swim away from the line, and during one of the attempts, the taut line suddenly slackened, which they interpret as the tentacle breaking. Out-of-frame of course. Autophagy/severing the tentacle by biting is a possibility, though not previously recorded specifically for Archi as far as I know. Some octopus (e.g. Ameloctopus) have an autotomy plane or ready-made 'snap' point where the arms always break off (when they do). Seems likely, although I don't have a ref for this, that the squid that regularly lose their tentacles with maturity (e.g. Octopoteuthidae, and many onychoteuthids) would have something similar.
The pictures of the squid struggling to get away have led scientists to the conclusion that the giant squid is a more aggressive hunter than previously thought. But one commenter named Andreas argues that the pictures tell us very little about normal squid behavious:
In the BBC clip the person beeing interviews indicated that the pictures where evidence of an agressive pursuit style of hunting.
He fails to mention that the 1st thing that happenend was that the squid got its longest tentacle caught on the fishing line, and spent the rest of the pictures fighting for its life trying to free itself... Given these facts it seems that the pictures show normal behavior but a squid in fighting for its life.
I think this is the same problem people had for years with sharks, they would chum the water throw in tons of dead fish and the sharks would go crazy because they never encountered this density of blood and dead fish in the "wild". This is how people though sharks regularly engaged in feeding frenzies and such.
I also saw a documentary on the Humbold squid, where one camera man used to go out with fishermen who where fishing the squid. He described the squid as vicious, they would eat each other and humans if they could catch them. Again these where squid in a life and death struggle, not engaged in "normal" day to day behavior.
In the same documentary some other divers went for a swin with the humbold squid while they where NOT getting massacred and they turned out to be much mellower, "friendlier" and more inquisitive.

I am amazed that scientist continue to fail to understabd how their observation methods affect the behavior of the things thei are studying.

Attach a squid to a steel hook it can't escape from and you will see a pissed off squid beeing active and fighting for its life. I don't think this provides much evidence in regards to "normal" behavior.
But that's a problem with any deep-sea study, notes Tintenfisch:
Observing 'normal' behavior is a problem with almost any footage taken of deep-sea creatures; in order to photograph anything down there, cumbersome supporting gear is required that tends to cause a lot of light disturbance, and often sound/vibrations as well. It is possible that, at least for deep-sea cephs and fish, the only behaviors we have ever observed on film have been threat-responses to the sudden appearance of a blinding, noisy camera apparatus, but this is what we have to settle for at the moment, until less obtrusive filming methods become more available (like the red light some scientists have recently used for filming).
But you're very right, Andreas, this is something that needs to be remembered when analyzing the behaviors caught on film, especially in an extremely stressful situation like this one.
Commenter Tonmo asks the question that may be on the minds of many more sensitive squid lovers:
As many know I've never been hyper-sensitive to these things (I almost ate some tako sushi last week -- but didn't ), but what is being heralded as a magnificient discovery is seeming more to me like animal torture.

If an extremely rare never-seen-alive gorilla or panda bear was caught in a trap, and videotaped for four hours in a struggle to get away, and finally got away by tearing off one of its limbs which was observed with great delight (the hand was still clutching!), the discovery would be met with mixed reviews at best, I would think. Just because Archi is submerged in water, should it be regarded any as less as one of earth's fellow creatures?
But Dr. O'Shea offers the counter-argument:
I do see your point Tony, very much so. I too was on the receiving end of messages like this when trawling for the juvenile giant squid ... killing everything in the process ... and I can understand where people were coming from. In fact this was a major turning point in my life - getting the squid on telly for the sake of getting it on film, or getting it on film and using this as a hook to lure people in to far more important matters, namely conservation.

Raising awareness of these magnificent animals through this sort of imagery does serve a purpose, even if the animal was stressed. People care when they see a magnificent animal in this condition, but not so about a trawl 'sheoparding up' the seabed and many fish. If this one animal lost a tentacle (that will regrow) and 1000 more are protected by some conservation lobby, then that is a necessary sacrifice. Ultimately conservation benefits.

Just the flip side, that's all. I sit somewhere in the middle.

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