Wednesday, February 14, 2007

colossal squid calamari: like piss-flavoured tractor tyres

Giant cephalopod article of the day can be found on the BBC website. Fascinating in its own right, as the whole business of how big these big rubbery monsters actually get is a vexed one, and the source of much myth and speculation (the mythical kraken, squid wrestling sperm whales, Kirk Douglas fighting off great disembodied rubber tentacles being waved at him by the props guy, etc. etc.), and it raises the question of what else might be lurking down there, as yet undiscovered by man (remember the coelecanth and the megamouth shark), just waiting to rise up shrieking from its watery resting place and wreak its dank and soggy revenge on the land-dwellers. Maybe I've been reading too much H.P. Lovecraft.

Anyway, large cephalopods apparently come in two flavours: GIANT and COLOSSAL. I can't help feeling those responsible might have peaked a bit early with the naming - what if we find 2 or 3 species which are bigger (maximum size for both seems to be of the order of about 45 feet, including tentacles)? Once you've cashed in GARGANTUAN, what's left that's bigger? UNIMAGINABLY GARGANTUAN? BOWEL-LIQUEFYINGLY COLOSSALLY ENORMOUS? I look forward to finding out. I reckon there could be a Nobel Prize in it for me.

Anyway, getting to the point at last (everything between "fascinating in its own right" and here was just an aside): the BBC article comes with a classic layman's size guide to squids which I reproduce here. It's actually a bit misleading as it portrays the colossal squid as being appreciably bigger (50% or so, judging by the picture) then the giant one, whereas in fact the difference in size is no more than a metre or two. It's interesting in that it also perpetuates the practice of using the London Bus as the standard non-SI unit of length for comparison of medium-sized things, presumably as part of the same measurement system that uses the Football Pitch as a unit for comparison of large things. By my calculations (assuming the bus measurement here is correct, and a standardised 100-metre pitch) 1 FP = 12.5 LB, though of course the LB abbreviation conflicts with that used for the Imperial pound, so we might need to rethink that one. Ironically the London Bus portrayed when these measurements are used is invariably a Routemaster, which have now been withdrawn from all but a couple of "heritage" tourist routes in London. Then again it's no more ridiculous as a basis for measurements than a 39mm-high* lump of platinum-iridium alloy kept in a locked room somewhere near Paris.

* or 4.9 milliRoutemasters, if you prefer.

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