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    Squid Make Excellent TV Personalities
    By Danna Staaf | October 18th 2010 10:38 AM | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Danna

    Cephalopods have been rocking my world since I was in grade school. I pursued them through a BA in marine biology at the University of California...

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    I guess there is a new anime called Squid Girl? I guess Squid Girl's goal is to "subdue the human race and prevent them from polluting the ocean"? I can't decide whether or not this sounds like something I would make up, and if it does, I can't decide whether I should be proud or embarassed. In any case, I don't think anyone is learning any biology from Squid Girl.

    On the other hand, you'd think people ought to have learned a great deal of biology from the documentary Giant Squid: Inside Nature's Giants Special that aired a few days ago. But the two reviews I read are all muddled up! The Independent notes that
    Giant squid have three hearts.
    So far, so good (all cephalopods have three hearts, in fact), but then:
    This is so they can (a) breathe but also so that they (b) spurt out air, jet-propeller style.
    What.

    Do you use your heart to breathe? No? You use your lungs? Yes? Well, oddly enough, squid use their gills to breathe, too! Sure your heart pumps blood to your lungs, and the squid's hearts pump blood to its gills, but the wording of (a) is just ridiculous.

    Yet not as ridiculous as (b). Spurt out air? Are you kidding? Here's the truth: squid swim by jet propulsion. They use the muscles of their mantle, or body, to expel water rapidly through a funnel. The hearts are involved only peripherally, in that they provide oxygenated blood to the muscles so they can function. Sigh. What's next?
    Still, their brains are minute, the size of a broad bean... For all its extra-terrestrial weirdness the giant squid is not, as they say, the sharpest tool in the box. If intellect is what you're after, it's not the squid you should be looking at, it's the octopus... Octopuses can be trained, can learn stuff, figure out problems. They can open boxes and navigate mazes.
    Arghh. It's not that squid are dumb, it's just that they're much harder to work with than octopuses, so we don't know if they can learn and figure out problems. But wait, I may be repeating myself.

    I was going to tear apart The Guardian's review, too, but frankly it's much better and I'm exhausted from my efforts to correct The Independent. Just one point: The Guardian's piece claims that the female giant squid stores her eggs in her arms, which is flat-out wrong. They're way back in her mantle cavity, like all the other squids.

    Because of it being British and all (and also because I don't have a TV (and also because I wasn't at home even if I did have a TV)) I didn't get to watch this documentary. I don't know if it was just the journalists that got themselves muddled, but if the show itself was that inaccurate, you could probably learn more biology from Squid Girl.