Thursday, September 29, 2005

Giant Squid Caught on Video

They finally did it! Scientists have finally caught a giant squid on video. What's the big deal, you say? It's just a squid. A sotong. Jiu hu. Market also have.

Not really.

Randy Kochevar, deep sea biologist with the Monterey aquarium, via Yahoo! News: "Nobody has been able to observe a large giant squid where it lives. There are people who said it would never be done."

Well, they did it. It may be possible to expect more footage of these once-
mysterious denizens of the deep.

Not your average squid
The giant squid (genus architeuthis) can grow to be over twenty feet long from head to tentacle-tip. They are usually found around 1000 feet deep, but can surface to find food. No living specimen has ever been caught alive, even on camera - at least, up till now. We can't even breed one of these in a lab.

You do not want to bump into this creature when it's hungry. If its arms don't squeeze the life out of you, it'll drag you to its mouth, where a strong parrot-like beak waits to tear you into bite-size bits. It's not really tasty, either; it's full of ammonium chloride, which helps keep it from sinking to the bottom - and kind of smells like pee.

While chances of swimmers actually meeting a giant squid are nearly zero, its smaller cousin, the Humboldt squid (a real jiu hu), is no less ferocious. They will attack and eat each other. The fishermen who catch this squid call it the Red Devil, and are more afraid of it than sharks.

Would your opinions of the squid ever be the same again?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Seafaring Riverboats, Unarmoured Humvees

We've all heard about how Kublai Khan's failed invasion of Japan, thwarted by the kamikaze or divine wind, that capsized his fleet of over four thousand ships. Centuries later, the young stupid suicide pilots of the Japanese air force would invoke the name of this conquering tempest when they ploughed their planes into enemy warships during World War II.

A recent archaeological expedition has revealed some startling truths about the Khan's failed venture, and downplayed the role played by the storm, long touted as the main factor.

Never mind that the Mongols knew scratch about sailing or sea battles, or that Japanese swordsmen were lethal in close-quarters combat. There were hints that Chinese ship makers commissioned into building the fleet had used shoddy workmanship as a means of sabotage. Kublai's impatience was also a factor; to complete his massive fleet within the unreasonable schedule, riverboats - totally unseaworthy vessels - were also drafted into the fleet.

The fleet had sunk even before it left the dry-docks.

We are strange, you know. We store history and quote from it, but never learn anything from it. Even today, people are still rushing to war with vague mission statements, poor preparation, and misleading preconceptions and lousy intelligence about the other side. When it all ends, usually in failure, the common folk have to bear the cost of the aftermath.

But we don't have to look back eight hundred years to learn about the folly of rushing to war. We only need to go back about two years.