Sunday, October 02, 2005

Cuddlefish

Like the proverbial iceberg, the largest part of the story, the information and facts about the similarly mostly submerged Giant Squid are finally coming to the surface with increasing regularity.
Just last week a series of photographs taken by a couple of Japanese scientists from the National Science Centre and the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association, both in Tokyo, revealed Architeuthis in all his strange and usually secret glory, frolicking in the cold and dark waters of the North Pacific.
As shy and elusive as President Bush at the outset of the Katrina disaster, the estimated 59 foot carnivorous cephalopod made a surprise appearance and revealed himself/herself/itself to the scientists as he/she/it attempted to grapple with a baited hook equipped with a camera some 900 meters below the choppy surface.
The photographs show an enormous squid wrapping it’s tentacles (two) and arms (eight) around the line which eventually got the better of at least one of the squid’s appendages, offering the scientists a close up look at the be-suction-cupped tentacle, still writhing somewhat in its death throes, but fresh and pink and offering the first real glimpse of Giant Squid flesh not long dead and not washed up on a beach, the way most of the really large squid findings have by necessity taken place.
Then just a few days later came the news from another set of scientists observing the heretofore similarly mysterious sex life of the giant members of the extended mollusk family – the larger female and (slightly – these things are relative) smaller male who combine in their own unique age old fashion to produce tiny little baby Giant Squid in a mating ritual that sounds as dangerous as it does revolting.
According to today’s online ‘The Independent’, a series of Giant Squid washed up on a beach in Spain revealed details including the length of the male Giant Squid’s sexual appendage (a horrifying 8 feet of sharp and nasty squid passion attached to a further 18 meters of squidgey squid reality) with which, according to scientists, the male squid attempt to impale the female – piercing her on the arm in order to impregnate her.
As you can imagine, there’s a certain amount of thrashing about, as well as a significant amount of danger which includes male squids often accidentally piercing themselves, other male squids, or just about anything that resembles whatever it is about the female of his species that attracts his attentions so.
Eek. But it’s all information – more insights into the wild and wacky and downright weird world of one of the planet’s least known and or understood creatures. It’s all grist to my mill – I love the Giant Squid and have been fascinated by him/her/it since I became aware of the genus and was able to go online and research more beginning about eight years ago.
It’s not so much that I’d like to get up close and personal with this creature that belongs to the same family of invertebrates as the octopus, the nautilus and the cuttlefish – I have no desire whatsoever to cuddle one of those fish; but they’re so mysterious, so creepy, so weird and fundamentally alien that I can’t help but imagine their life and style of living.
I learned the legends – the tales straight out of Jules Verne that purported to be real: about squids grappling warships into the deeps, about sailors caught and eaten by a school of invertebrates that jigged for the men as easily as a fisherman jigs for a tame octopus. About monsters seen and measured by the length of vessel that the measurer was on – one hundred and ten feet thought the chap back in the early part of the 20th century.
I’ve read the speculation about the relationship between squid and whales – right whales and sperm whales and grey whales doing battle with the creatures whose tactic it is to drown the whales, pulling them down and down until the mammoth mammal suffocates. Until recently, the best way to guess potential squid size was by the size of the suction cup-scarred whale skin and enormous squid beaks found in the stomachs of the those orcas who survived at least that encounter with death.
In the last couple of years we’ve learned of the Colossal Squid – assumed to be larger than your common or garden (Octopus’s Garden one assumes) Giant variety, a pretty distressing sounding creature matching size with carnivorous power, sporting fully two razor sharp beaks and tentacles covered in sharp tooth filled suction cups.
There’s also a fairly recently discovered squid-type creature which comes equipped with ten indistinguishable appendages (in the regular squid, the tentacles and arms are easily recognized, the arms being considerably longer) which radiate from the body like spokes on a wheel. Each has a sharply bent elbow from which the rest of the arm hangs straight down. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something queerly disgusting about a tentacle with an elbow joint.
To complete this picture of the estimated 23 foot long creature only a mother could love (if she didn’t eat it first) it has two gigantic fins that stick out either side of its body and that flap like elephant ears as it propels its weird self along.
According to one of the scientists that had an opportunity to study photos of the peculiar animal back in 2003, “New species are a dime a dozen in the deep sea, and I suspect there are a lot of very weird things down there.”
No kidding.
But of course the reason we know so little about these creatures is because of the oceanic depths in which their lives typically take place. For the largest of their species, rising to the surface, losing the pressure on their bodies and blood so necessary to survival, the squid cannot really live in our world so close to the top, but as technology improves, we’re finding it little by agonizingly little, easier to find our way down to his.
But talk about weird, creepy and fundamentally alien – little as we know about what lives in the deepest darkest troughs of the ocean, would that we knew so much about the murky workings of the American Government, the specific methods and means used to run that government, go to war or respond to disaster.
I think we’ve all been assuming (hoping) that the current administration’s depth was similar to that of the iceberg or the Giant Squid – huge, hidden and substantial. But maybe the truth is that there’s less than meets the eye. Maybe the truth is as insubstantial and potentially invisible as icebergs at the North Pole, those that through global warming are melting faster than the truckloads of ice some friendly folk recently attempted to ship to Louisiana and points thereabout.
(Unfortunately getting to ‘thereabout’ turned into a runaround that ended with tons of ice being re-routed to cold storage where it’s being stockpiled for the next disaster. Current cost of the ice fiasco? About a cool one hundred million dollars. U.S. dollars that is.)
Consider the fact that in revealing the inadequacies of the action plan to aid in the latest natural disasters even with sufficient notice, the parties supposedly responsible were effectively about as useful as a squid on dry land. Or in the White House for that matter.
One of the weirdest images we’ve yet been privy to in the human world is the latest vision of the latest new, improved President – the compassionate hero who made seven trips to areas devastated by Katrina and Rita… the minute his approval numbers hit an all time low.
The guy who until recently was urging Americans to consume and buy as much oil and energy as possible has discovered conservation (hallelujah!) and is urging Americans to conserve – to drive less, form carpools, take public transit, turn down the air conditioning and turn off the lights.
The same President who continues to visit the storm ravaged homes and drilling platforms and refinieries down south in gas guzzling Air Force One ($83,000.00 to fill, $6,000.00 an hour to fly) or surrounded by an extended SUV driving entourage,eachof which sucks gasoline at the rate of approximately 22 miles to the gallon.
The President and energy conservation: it’s not a glove-like fit if you know what I’m saying.
And the Presidential tentacles reach nowhere near so far as where or when they’ve been needed; from New York to Afghanistan and from Iran to Iraq and now to the French Quarter, it’s clear now that neither his reach nor his grasp have come close to meeting or exceeding his cocky hubris.
Weird things down there? In Washington you mean? I’ll say.
So weird I think I'd rather smile and kiss a cuttlefish than grapple with a President whose mind and motivations are as creepy and alien – and still as mysterious to me - as those of the Giant Squid.

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