Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni: A TV Review and More for Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Not much to report today, except for a rare TV program review. Its only colossal - about Colossal Squid, that is. The not-to-be-missed special Animal Planet program about the world's first live-caught Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni (see hyperlinks below). This program is for all-interested in animals, biology, zoology, invertebrates, cryptozoology, and on and on...This program is for virtually everybody.
They actually have video footage of the capture and netting of the M. hamiltoni by a fishing ship (the name of which escapes'll just have to see the repeats)...from a couple of years back. The animal did not seem to struggle very hard, perhaps it was near the end of its approximately 450 day life cycle. Why did they not throw the living animal back in the sea, knowing that pulling it out would only kill it? Supposedly, it was done in the name of science. Of course, we don't know what science paid to possess this colossal and absolutely unique one-of-kind specimen.
The specimen was frozen and eventually delivered to the squid expert - Steve Shay (sp.?) and his team - who'd been searching 20 years for just this kind of opportunity. The thawing of the whole carcass in one-piece was a real nail-biter. Mainly, because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and never done before. The experience itself was absolutely unique. They were surrounded by photographers and videographers and other members of the media during this high time.
In the time they had to thaw the big star of this show, other specimens (another M. hamiltoni - carrion) mainly found dead, were examined and dissected. A couple of rather unique observations and details on the structure of this body plan were revealed. The M. hamiltoni (and all squid?...) have a brain shaped like a torus or a doughnut. This allows the animal's esophagus to pass right through it. If the beast slurps too much of its food through this tube, it can cause brain damage. But, perhaps that doesn't matter much if your life-span is only 450 days...
At one point, they displayed the rather striking gills on the animal during the dissection. Any fishermen, biologist, zoologist and so on would recognize these for what they are. Here, they found the anus. That must be a rather uncomfortable body plan, to position the waste disposal port right near the breathing apparatus and the feeding apparatus! Truly, an alien being.
The beak and claws were genuinely fearsome in appearance. You would not want to encounter one of these animals during fishing, boating, scuba-diving or other water-related activities. The beak is supposedly the largest one in nature. Avoid this living structure at all costs. The tentacles do not have suckers (unlike its relative, the Architeuthis...see links below). Rather, they have razor sharp talons (growing up to three inches in length). And, to our amazement, each one is paired with another and can rotate 360°! By comparison, an adult Architeuthis can hold on to (and devour) a two foot long fish. The M. hamiltoni, it is said, can hold on to a seven foot long fish.
Video footage in the interim showed the program and Dr. Shay studying M. hamiltoni's natural enemy - Physeter macrocephalus (or catodon, according to which school you belong...see links below). The video footage of a living P. catodon was eerie and far too short. The footage showing Dr. Shay and partner dissecting a dead, beached carcass of the whale was both gross and amusing. Dr. Shay used these opportunities to study the interactions of the squid and the whale. He showed us what appeared to be obvious talon scars on the patch of the dead whale's skin. Examination of the whale's digestive system showed remains of the M. hamiltoni's (beak, claws, etc...) left inside. This was somewhat amusing as the odor left Dr. Shay gagging and retching helplessly, almost falling to his knees. The producers just had to leave this sequence in the program. The man is still a trooper, and he still won our respect.
Eventually, with much consternation, fear, anxiety and ingenuity, the carcass of the captured specimen of M. hamiltoni was thawed and examined. (Dr. Shay had stayed up two nights in a row to keep watch.). Dr. Shay allowed them to remove one of the largest eyeballs in the world for examination. Measurements showed a diameter of 10.5". The lens was split in two pieces (naturally) and the size of a baseball. The program focuses in on the one remaining eye, preserved forever in formalin (as opposed to formaldehyde, which we believe Wikipedia needs to further disambiguate...) at the end of the program.
At one point, Dr. Shay was hopping about in excited glee shouting "Its a hexacaudylus! Its a hexacaudylus!". Which is a modified tentacle used by males to deliver sperm packets during mating - meaning that the specimen was male. Much to Dr. Shay's chagrin, he realized that it was a modified tentacle and the specimen was therefore, not a male. Dr. Shay shared his disappointment later - and we sympathized - but he still had one of the greatest-ever scientific specimens. A search and inserted video camera later showed eggs (but not too many) in the carcass - demonstrating that the animal's gender was female. After the four or so hours of thawed examination, the crew realized the carcass was rotting right before the eyes and had to rush in a drum of formalin and inject the carcass with very large hypodermics of the same. Some stitching (there was a tear in the mantle, revealed after the colossal tail fin had been delicately pulled back) repaired the rest of the carcass. After a time of near-hysterics, the full and intact body was delivered into its display tank and to the museum.

No comments: