A year ago, considerable public attention focused on the supposed perils of shark attacks. For 2002, the media has crowned a new star, as the menacing dorsal fin has been superseded by tentacles that stretch the length of a mobile home. Yes, we are now enjoying the summer of the giant squid!
Popular movements don't start overnight, and the origins of this one can be traced to a National Geographic TV special from about 18 months ago titled Sea Monsters: Search for the Giant Squid. This program followed two marine biologists as they attached a high-tech "crittercam" to sperm whales, which often feed on these unknown beasts from the deep. While the device proved wholly unsuccessful in capturing the first-ever live footage of squids in their native environment, the documentary nonetheless scored big numbers among viewers.
Then, in June, Britain's New Scientist magazine reported that a mysterious undersea sound had been recorded on sonar equipment. Much louder than noises typically made by whales, these so-called "bloops" led one CNN reporter to speculate about the possibility of "a deep sea monster, possibly a many-tentacled giant squid."
As if on cue, a dead squid whose tentacles measured almost 60 feet in length was discovered six weeks later on a beach in Tasmania. The mammoth specimen came from the genus Architeuthis, a carnivorous mollusk with a beaklike mouth that is said to be strong enough to cut through a steel cable. Equally bizarre, the eye of this species rates as the largest in the animal kingdom, measuring up to 18 inches in width.
Fewer than 50 of these Architeuthis carcasses have been found in the last 100 years, an elusiveness that makes this beast the aquatic equivalent of Bigfoot. As such, the giant squid provides a window to an uncharted natural world—one with far fewer limits and far more possibilities. Personally, the concept of fantastical sea creatures lurking largely unseen by human eyes gives me a lot of optimism about the future of our planet.
Of course, unlike Bigfoot, the existence of squid bodies gives a real-world grounding to our fascination. See for yourself beginning Saturday, Aug. 24, when the Seattle Aquarium unveils a special exhibit of a Moroteuthis robusta, a slightly smaller, 9-foot version of the Tasmanian beast. Found on a beach near Point No Point on May 11, the squid's body was recovered soon after washing ashore and remains in remarkably good condition. It will stay on display through October. For more information, see www.seattleaquarium.org or call 386-4320.
"We are happy to announce that Paradise meadows are now in full color," boasts David Wilde, who serves as managing director for Mount Rainier Guest Services. Because of a lingering snowpack, this year's wildflower bloom arrived a tad later than usual, but it should last through September. For the best wildflower viewing, use the trails just above the Paradise parking lot. Call 360-569-2275 for more Mount Rainier information.