Squiddy elbows and conflicts of interest.

Ok, i found the actual info via this CNN video, but the National Geographic article is much more informative, so I’ll focus on that.

Basically, this thing is its own genus and species though it’s currently classified as a squid.  It has ten appendages like other squids, but on the Magnapinna the leggies are all the same – tentacles are not differentiated – and it has some sort of joints near the head on each leg that function similar to elbows.  they are even more elusive than the Colossal Squid – so far, no adult specimens have been confirmed, as far as I could find.  Most of what we know about them comes from the juveniles that wash up and the deep sea videos and photographs taken, some of which are random captures from deep sea oil drilling tools (well, at least it’s good for some human advancement). We don’t even know if they chase prey – the long trailing arms (up to 23 feet in length, longer than the giant squid) could be a form of trapping that drifts until bumped, then snaps up the intrusion. Take a look:


Not something you’d want to meet in the dark depths of the ocean.

A last frontier?

The United States was a country that was partially shaped by its idea of ‘frontier’ and ever-outward expansion.  To a certain extent, the modern American still has a sense of himself as ruggedly individualistic and ready to pit himself against the world.  That external world, however, has greatly changed.  The frontier, even in remote areas of Alaska, doesn’t truly exist the way it once did.  Now it seems that one of the last frontiers will become more easily reachable – the oceans.

Scientists around the world are currently cataloguing and delving deep into the oceans.  Their aim is to gather enough data to complete a sort of ocean ‘census’ by 2010.  The data already collected is already providing interesting results: new depths at which ocean predators like jellyfish are sucessful, new habits and migrations of sharks, massive congregations of aquatic life in unusual places.  Researchers will meet Tuesday to begin compilation of various data points.  They will be working in association with the website PLoS ONE to get the content out, which is fabulous.  Who doesn’t like direct access?

Movin’ to the West Coast

In my future life discussion of the moment (a discussion with myself that’s really a step above talking to myself.  Really.), the topic of where I might go to grad school is a dominant theme.  I’m feeling the urge to settle.  Actually, I’ve been feeling the urge to settle for awhile, I just knew I didn’t want to settle up in Boston and hadn’t planned out my next steps.  So, one possibility for both next steps and settling has been someplace on the West Coast.  Several of my friends are from that area and will probably end up going back there, and it just seems like a nice place to be.  However, the specific location has eluded me, though Portland is the strongest candidate at the moment.

San Francisco or the Bay area generally also has a certain draw, but there are also drawbacks.  It’s basically another Boston cost-wise.  And while social outreach is really strong there (which is good, if you’re broke), it’s also big enough and popular enough to be highly competitive (which is bad, if you want a job in that area).  Of course, that same social outlook is also in the plus column for fostering acceptance and tolerance in the neighborhood.  Soon there may be another plus – a ‘decriminalization‘ of prostitution named Proposition K.  Basically this would mean no arrests or even investigations of prostitutes, though state laws would still call it a crime outside a local jurisdiction.

Responses to the law are mixed.  Some feel it would give added protection, in that groups could organize, remain highly public, and request police assistance if needed.  Others feel that the population of sex workers would explode in the city, bringing in money but also potentially causing an increase in sex trafficking as well.  In addition, when police are restricted from investigating prostitution, it may hamper their efforts to investigate other crime – drug use and distribution, abuse, and violence.  At the end of the day I’m not really sure how much Proposition K would benefit the lower echelons – would it mean more protection or less for those with drug addictions or in fear of injury or death who also happen to be sex workers?

Finally, I wonder at the name.  Really guys?  “I have a ‘Proposition’ for you?”  Gah.

The Pirates of the Rhone

Perhaps because I was born in the Midwest, I have always been fascinated by the sea an those who live on or near it.  While I know, at some level, that the romance of pirates, buccaneers, whalers, and even fishermen is largely unwarranted, that a sea life is an ugly, harsh one, I am still attracted to it.  The idea of loneliness, the flat plane of water extending in all directions, the dullness of endless days under the sun broken only by the fear of storms, the gentle comforting rock of the waves at night and the deep inner sense of those who have no one to face but themselves on most days all intrigue me.  But perhaps it’s all perception, not reality.

But all of the stories I know of life at sea have a hidden, secret side.  There’s sunken treasure there, secrets and lost lives and a tangle of the past we all sometimes try to escape.  There’s the wash of waves over land that once was shore, and the odd hollows of cliffs that are caves above water only half the time.  In this shallowness, this wash between land and sea, lies a great deal of our unknown past.  It is here that our origins lie largely unexplored.  It is here that we will find the truth of the first Americans, of the wars of ancient cities, of who we were and the way we lived in the past.

Yet there are those who remain amazed at what we discover in the newer field of underwater archeology.  There are those still surprised at the wonders that lurked offshore at Alexandria, or at the damp caves of Lescaux, or at the new finds in the Rhone near Arles.  For myself, I am more amazed at the comment by Michel L’Hour, who heads the Department of Subaquatic Archaeological Research, in that researchers are trying to determine “in what context these statues were thrown into the river”.  Hm.  I was unaware that we could tell someone intentionally threw them in just by the situation in which they were found.  But I don’t have all the details.  Perhaps the time period of the city was well-enough known that researchers are sure there wasn’t a flood or storm or battle or other natural or political disaster that would’ve led to the disbursement or abandonment of goods.  I suppose it could’ve been the famed Rhone river pirates, up to no good or about to be caught and dumping their loot.

Colossal vs. Giant

I just found this article on new discoveries about colossal squid, and was astonished.  I’ve always been interested in the sort of things lurking in the depths of the ocean – the Kraken, which we now think is a giant squid, the sperm whale, mondo-big sea lilies – all that stuff.  Anyone who reads dragon books has to love the dragons of the deep.  But it was perhaps this love that led me slightly astray in the past – for some reason I’d thought that giant squid and sperm whales were natural enemies, slamming and ramming one into the other.  It turns out that it’s more likely for the sperm whales to eat squid of various types, and that we get quite a bit of our information on deep sea squid from their remains in the bellies of whales.

Back to the article – before today, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as colossal squid, as opposed to the giant variety.  From what little we know of the species, we think it is larger and denser than the giant squid, making it the largest invertebrate in the world.  Why had I never heard of it before now, then?  Perhaps it hasn’t been getting as much press because of the fewer documented cases of its existence.  The earliest reported finding of a full body was in 2003, though earlier parts (tentacles and beaks) had been found as early as 1925.  Despite this lack of complete specimens, the colossal is different enough to be granted its own singular genus.  I may not know much about Linnaeus (besides that he was a racist), but I gather that this means something is importantly different about this species. More information can be found at this comparative site, and at the Te Papa museum.

If colossals can have such a different morphology than the giants, and if we still do not know the full extent of these squid’s habits and habitats, it could again be a case of writing more than we know.  Who’s to say that colossals and sperm whales aren’t natural enemies?  Who’s to say that icebergs can’t travel south and then north again without flipping?  Who’s to say that the Vikings didn’t intermarry and merge with northern Native American tribes? (This is all in one of those possibly-real-life youth adventure books, but I’ve been unable to think of the title.  Sorry.)

Your NEW shoes.

I was surprised to discover a nice little MIT article this morning about abalone shell and virus-made films that may be used for batteries, although a bit dissappointing.  One of the opening sentences, “Thanks to those sea snails [abalone] and a eureka moment, Angela Belcher, Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering, is developing smart nano-materials”, left me sure that the article would be about turning shell into battery. How amazing!

In reality, it’s about using viruses to make what we want them to make. True, this is still kinda amazing, but a little old-hat. It’s like manufacturing vs. handcrafted goods. I’m more fascinated with someone who comes up with an original way to glaze pottery, perhaps using some new plastics, than someone who builds a better porcelain machine. I want to see recombinations of old and new materials and techniques working together in a truly unique way. But that’s just me.

Despite my disappointment, the article still had several high points for me. First, a water-repellent battery film is pretty cool, even if it’s made using viruses, not shell. Second, I was pleased by Angela Belcher’s continued study of the abalone for new inspiration, as well as her humane treatment of even these low-form animals. Third, the whole thing inspired me to actually go find out how abalone produces its shell, and how that shell is both extremely rough on the outside and delicate and colorful on the inside. It turns out both the outer edge of the shell and the inside part, which are entirely different substances, is secreted by the mantle, which kinda surrounds the protruding foot of the animal. Also, the actual substance of the shell itself is so hard and impact-resistant because it’s made up of a series of chalky ‘brick’ units held together by an elastic protein acting as a mortar. When something hits the shell, the bricks caroom to the side, sliding and yet still held by the protein. Since the protein has a very high tensile strength and can be pulled out like a large spring, this allows the shell to stay intact both under a sudden force, or under sustained pressure (the rigid chalky parts acting strongly to resist compression).

The whole thing reminded me of the Super Mario movie (Which should have had a sequel, by the way. I’m still waiting patiently). The abalone protein is like the super-springy fungus, protecting the brothers at every turn. So while I doubt the advantages of rocket boots, I wonder what this combining of material types synthetically will now spawn. Heated winter boots that are solar cells on the outside to provide the heat? Sneakers that are alive enough to custom-model to your feet? ‘Duck boots’ with natural water-repellent oils?

Can’t we all just get along?

Growing up as an Indiana girl, I’ve always been fascinated by the sea.  Except for an 18-month interlude in my childhood, I’d been without it, and because of this lack of familiarity, it’s exerted an inexorable pull on me.  On one of the first vacations I can remember my family taking, to the Atlantic seaboard, the ocean was one of the most memorable parts of the trip.  I remember my father admonishing my sister and I to keep our eyes on the waves while his own back was to the surf – and subsequently being boweled over by it.  I can remember taking a look at one seaside park late in the afternoon, and just begging and begging to go out and play in it – my parents eventually acquiescing, and themselves having a delightful and riotous time, despite gritty swimsuits later.  The sea plays powerfully in my imagination, and can create a kind of almost-magic in my stories.

It was especially powerful to me then to read this news article today.  Not only was I amazed at the cooperation exhibited between the beached whales and the dolphin that lead them out to sea, but by the intelligence of the dolphin and its ability to communicate with the whales.  These are two different species, albeit related ones.  I don’t know much about  whale or dolphin noises or soundings, but to me they seem very different.  How did the dolphin communicate effectively?  Do they, in fact, ‘speak the same language’, or did they communicate in other ways?  How do you earn the trust, in moments, of an animal of another species?  There are messages here we all could learn from.

To me however the most interesting aspect of the article was the whales themselves.  Due to past research of my own, the pygmy sperm whale, or Kogia breviceps (yes, I know the Latin name – it makes a good story title, but you can’t read this one yet as its main character remains…elusive) , is pretty familiar to me.  They are a strange and secretive species that we don’t know much about, perhaps due to their generally shy nature.  In fact, much of what we do know comes from dead or beached whales of this species who are probably not the average in behavior.

Perhaps the Japanese know them best, dubbing them the ‘floating whale’ due to their surfacing habits.  They don’t rise quickly or flash their tails a lot – they simply surface slowly, float silently for awhile, and then sink back down without really ‘diving’.   They are not much bigger than dolphins themselves, which is perhaps why they seemed to cooperate so well with the dolphin of the story.  They have teeth (unlike most sperm whales) and spermaceti, that substance we don’t exactly understand.  They also have a sort of reddish stuff they can expel in fear – to confuse enemies, to mask scent or hide, or for some other purpose as yet unclear.  It is perhaps because of these secrets, these mysteries and unusual habits that I am drawn to this particular animal.  What mysteries could they unlock for us if we could, like the dolphin, communicate and share with them?