USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

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Yes, I admit it, I’m pretty spoiled to be living in San Diego. Eighty Degrees today and perfect blue skies was a picture perfect day to go out on a whale watching adventure. Armed with my camera I didn’t know what might be out there. Would the whales be out playing? I hoped so. During the trip we spotted 3 Fin Whales (the second largest whale behind the blue whale), some sea lions and HUNDREDS of dolphins. This massive pod of dolphins we encountered were curious about the ship and came and played in our wake. It was an utmost amazing experience. But it got me thinking about what else is out there? What lies beneath what we can see?

Granted I have a little bit of an overactive imagination and those thoughts quickly turned to the monsters of the depth that might want to take down my wonderful cruising vessel. Thoughts of the ‘kraken‘ came to mind as old tales have been told that they can take down a ship. Some people now think these might not be purely fictional tales and what might have been sighted were giant squids. While these giant squid of yesteryear are MUCH bigger than those that Nifty Fifty Speaker William Gilly studies, he does study some jumbo Humbolt squid that can reach an impressive length of 7 feet and weight of 100 pounds! Find out more about him below.

Nominated by Stanford University, read a little about Dr. Gilly and his research on the giant squid:
Indeed, the Humboldt represents an interesting creature for Gilly and his colleagues to study. With its 8 arms and two extensible tentacles, it is a gigantic cephalopod that reaches a length of 7 feet and weight of 100 pounds. It can jet rapidly through the water, perhaps over 20 mph, and can even leap out of the water and glide, a feat for which they are also called “jumbo flying squid”. The creatures have large brains and probably communicate with each other through flashing changes of skin color, though what they are saying remains a mystery for now.

Gilly’s group was the first to track the daily, vertical movements of this squid (or any squid) using electronic tagging methods. This approach showed that the Humboldt spends most of its adult life at daytime depths greater than 1,000 feet, where the oxygen concentration is extremely low. At night, the animals migrate to the surface. Gilly thinks that they feed continuously in both environments – an ability that allows them to increase their body weight several million-fold in their 2-year lifespan.

An ability of this fast-swimming predator to tolerate low levels of oxygen may be key to the recent range expansion. Humboldt squid utilize a vast mid-water environment, the oxygen minmum zone (OMZ), that is hostile to pelagic predatory fishes like tunas or sharks. And even remarkable is that this OMZ is expanding by moving closer to the surface. This change has only been recently reported, but it has occurred throughout the northeastern Pacific, from the tropics to the Gulf of Alaska. As the OMZ moves closer to the surface, the favorable oxygen-rich habitat of pelagic fish gets increasingly compressed, but the Humboldt squid’s world expands. As squid move into new areas they will further alter the ecosystems in the face of this midwater climate change. Read more about him on our website.

The ‘Nifty Fifty’ are a group of noted professionals who will fan out across the Washington, DC area next October to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools. Are you a Festival Partner Organization? Then nominate a ‘Nifty Fifty’ speaker! Find out more about how to nominate a speaker here.

Comments

  1. #1 Alex
    April 2, 2010

    Hey guys, any help would be great. I have a lot of conflicts in mind such as the battle with the giant squid, the men trying to escape and a few others. Could you please help me with the conflict and write a little bit for it please? Thanks in advance.

  2. #2 tashi rastogi
    September 1, 2010

    hi gilly
    i m student studying at svkm international school in india
    i have a project at school on squids need some help.
    grade 7
    tashi

  3. #3 facebook chat emoticons
    June 22, 2011

    Hi, i heared about squid little bit as the color-changing behavior is controlled by the squid’s brain and provides visual signals, but the purpose of those signals is still unknown. Indeed the creatures’ habits are mostly a mystery to scientists. Best of luck gilly to find out this one habit scientifically.

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