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    TV Drives Giant Squid Research
    By Danna Staaf | August 20th 2010 04:28 PM | 10 comments | 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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    A couple months shy of a year ago, I was raving about the news that a new giant squid documentary was in the works.

    Guess what? It's still in the works!

    If this weren't so deadly serious (joke) I'd be laughing my head off about the meta-meta-reporting. I'm writing a blog post . . . about an article . . . about a documentary . . . that hasn't been filmed yet. And you're still reading? You should probably just go outside a watch a tree grow.

    But wait, before you go, a pop quiz: Can squid hear?

    Why do I ask? Well, this latest article about the documentary quotes a pioneer of deep-sea observation techniques as she discusses the challenges of observing "natural" behavior:
    "But still, we're very limited because (the machines) we go and explore with make loud noises and bright light. And these animals have evolved to be very sensitive to that," Widder said.
    In the case of squid, while they are obviously very sensitive to light, we actually don't know how sensitive they are to sound, if at all. In 1985, a fellow named Moynihan wrote an article entitled "Why Are Cephalopods Deaf?" only to be countered a couple of years later by Roger Hanlon's "Why Cephalopods Are Probably Not Deaf"! Hilarity ensued.

    No, not really. What actually ensued was a couple decades of very little research into the question, because as it turns out cephalopod hearing is not really of tremendous concern to either researchers or (more likely) their funding sources. However, there were a few studies indicating that some cephalopods at least do respond to vibration in the water. Most recently, in 2008, scientists found "the first direct evidence that cephalopods detect kinetic sound components using statocysts." Woo!

    Although cephalopods are probably not deaf, the sensitivity of any particular cephalopod to any particular sound is still anyone's guess. Maybe over the course of filming the giant squid documentary, they can play some Brahms and some Beatles, and see if Architeuthis has a preference.

    In all seriousness, though, getting the footage for this film really does mean doing new science that's never been done before. At this point, we know so little about giant squids than any video will be groundbreaking. Any video will probably result in scientific papers, presentations, hypotheses and theories.
    It wasn't until December 2006 that zoologist Tsunemi Kubodera of Japan's National Science Museum recorded the first video of a live giant squid. But mere glimpses of the giant squid won't suffice for an ambitious new project, spearheaded by the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel and the Japanese production firm NHK Enterprises. The aim is to create a two-part documentary featuring the giant squid (Architeuthis dux).
    I'm fascinated by this blurry line between journalism and science. If the media (Discovery Channel, etc.) hadn't decided they wanted to report on it, there'd be no money to support the science, and therefore nothing to report on.

    I wonder if scientists should spend more time pitching ideas to production companies than to granting agencies?

    Comments

    jtwitten
    Sounds a lot like some of the funding/science/media issues involved in paleontology as in the Predator X situation.
    There is precedent for this. National Geographic has filmed serious (funded, reviewed, published) science. But could an entertainment company (Discovery) give up enough control so that the scientists do proper work? I don't know.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Very interesting article, I love these articles on squid almost as much as those about the Higgs Bosun. Is it true that these giant squid can grow to 20 metres as reported in this Youtube clip? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dv9JhQ0Msw&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z2Lfxpi710
    β€”
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    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I agree we need more footage about giant squid, however, how long before media coverage and human interest is followed by commercial giant squidding? Next thing these amazing animals might become yet another endangered species to add to the ever growing list along with bonobos and urangatangs and many of the whales.
    β€”
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    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Sorry, squid and whales are not animals I meant to say creatures.
    β€”
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    I think that, scientifically, they are animals, part of the Animal Kingdom. They are not Plants or Bacteria.

    Danna Staaf
    Tom is correct--squid and whales are indeed animals.

    (Although there was a time when "animal" meant what "mammal" means today; thus, "animals, birds, and fish" was not a silly list to make. There was also a time when whales were considered fish, not mammals. But those times are not today.)
    So Danna, is it true that these giant squid can grow to 20 metres as reported in this Youtube clip?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dv9JhQ0Msw&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z2Lfxpi710

    Danna Staaf
    Tolweb reports:
    Largest specimens attain mantle lengths up to 5 m and total lengths up
    to 18 m, but animals of that size are seldom reported. Most records are
    in the 6-12 m total length range.
    So you can get "20 meters" by rounding up from the largest reliable report. =) It's not that far off, but bear in mind that most of the "total length" is made up by the very thin, stretchy tentacles.
    Like the way you have written
    Animal Repellents