Thursday, May 27, 2004
THE SQUID HUNTER
The New Yorker: Fact
Kersauson took the flashlight, and inspected for himself. “I had never seen anything like it,” he told me. “There were two giant tentacles right beneath us, lashing at the rudder.”
The creature seemed to be wrapping itself around the boat, which rocked violently. The floorboards creaked, and the rudder started to bend. Then, just as the stern seemed ready to snap, everything went still. “As it unhooked itself from the boat, I could see its tentacles,” Ragot recalled. “The whole animal must have been nearly thirty feet long.”
The creature had glistening skin and long arms with suckers, which left impressions on the hull. “It was enormous,” Kersauson recalled. “I’ve been sailing for forty years and I’ve always had an answer for everything—for hurricanes and icebergs. But I didn’t have an answer for this. It was terrifying.”
What they claimed they saw—a claim that many regarded as a tall tale—was a giant squid, an animal that has long occupied a central place in sea lore; it has been said to be larger than a whale and stronger than an elephant, with a beak that can sever steel cables.
.....Steve O’Shea, a marine biologist from New Zealand, is one of the hunters—but his approach is radically different. He is not trying to find a mature giant squid; rather, he is scouring the ocean for a baby, called a paralarva, which he can grow in captivity. A paralarva is often the size of a cricket.
....Rival hunters once viewed his plan skeptically: if no one could find the animal when it was sixty feet long, how could anyone discover it when it was barely an eighth of an inch? Lately, though, many have come to see O’Shea’s strategy as a potential breakthrough. “It offers several advantages,” Clyde Roper, an American who is perhaps the world’s foremost expert on squid, told me. Roper is a giant-squid hunter himself, who once descended underwater in a steel cage, in search of his quarry. “First, you could find the juvenile at shallower depths. That makes it a lot easier to catch. Furthermore, there are more of them around, because at that stage, even though mortality is high, the adult female will release up to four million eggs. That’s a hell of a lot of baby giant squid running around.” He added, “It’s a matter of a numbers game, pure and simple.”
In 1999, O’Shea studied what few had ever seen—the corpse of a baby Architeuthis, which was discovered off New Zealand. He described its curious morphology: two eyes spread disconcertingly far apart; a parrot-like mouth concealing a raspy, serrated tongue; eight arms extending outward from a torpedo-shaped head. Each elastic limb was lined with hundreds of suckers, ringed with sharp teeth. The skin was iridescent, and filled with chromatophores—groups of pigment cells—that allowed it to change colors. A funnel near its head could shoot out clouds of black ink. The specimen also had two extraordinary-looking clubbed tentacles. (When a giant squid is mature, they can stretch up to thirty feet.)
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