Since the stock markets are on fire metaphorically, and London and Syria and Libya are on fire literally, I thought I'd try to find something uplifting to write about this week.
So I'm going to write about giant squids.
Not just the giant squid, also known by its scientific name of Architeuthis, but it's distant relative the colossal squid, or Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni.
First, we should settle the "which one is bigger" argument. (This is the same argument that dinosaur enthusiasts get into a lot.)
The giant squid is longer, the colossal squid is heavier and stockier. There, that gives you factual information without actually solving anything, since it depends on what you mean by "bigger."
The biggest colossal squid ever found was hauled aboard a New Zealand fishing vessel in 2007, weighing in at more than 1,090 pounds. In the water, it would have been considerably larger than, say, a scuba diver. Especially with its tentacles fully extended.
Let's consider the tentacles for a moment. They have hooks on them. Big, heavy hooks that come out of the suction cups. Because apparently evolution decided the squid needed two ways to grab onto things in the inky blackness of the deep Antarctic seas.
Speaking of that inky blackness, the colossal squid has the largest eyes of any known animal, typically referred to as "beach ball sized," as animal eyes and hailstones must be compared to sporting equipment by journalistic law. The eyes of the New Zealand specimen were 27 centimetres wide, to be precise.
This presumably allows the squid to see what it's eating. And what does it eat? Probably glow-in-thedark fish that live thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean. The squid's mantle, where it keeps its stomach, is one of the few parts of its body that is not translucent. That may be to block the light of any recently-consumed snacks from tipping off any aboutto-be-consumed snacks.
It bites those with a beak almost five centimetres wide in full-grown specimens.
But the colossal squid isn't the biggest, baddest critter at the bottom of the sea.
In fact, for something armed with huge tentacles, giant grasping hooks, and a razor-sharp beak, it may be a bit of a pushover. Some scientists studying the squid have referred to it as a big bag of Jell-o. They may not move much, just sitting and waiting for their prey, eating, and then pumping out eggs and more colossal squid, which may become food for bigger predators.
The colossal squid sounds pretty scary (minus the Jell-o thing) but they're prey for the sperm whale. You remember, Moby Dick was a big pale member of that species.
Before the 20th century, no one had seen even a tentacle of the colossal squid, although some of its distant relatives had been provoking legends of sea monsters in Europe for centuries. But when the age of whaling came into its own, sailors began pulling huge beaks out of the stomachs of the sperm whales they caught.
Sperm whales dive deep - up to three kilometres - and hunt the biggest squid in the world.
For hundreds of thousands of years, likely millions, whales have been pursuing hook-armed cephalopods at the bottom of the oceans. They rise scarred and victorious.
Why I find this all uplifting is that it's so strange. There's a dark, cold world, miles under the ocean, where titanic battles take place, and have taken place for ages beyond what we can imagine. It's a tale of sea monsters stranger than we could invent.
Matthew Claxton is a reporter at the Langley Advance.