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Jan 27 2013

#giantsquid time!

I’ve fired up the television and am tuned to the Discovery Channel. What is this godawful crap about rednecks and moonshine leading in to the documentary on the giant squid? It does not bode well.


Ooh, they’re teasing us with short clips right at the very beginning. Good start. Less “monster” talk would be welcome, and more biology and ecology would be welcome.


Boy, they really threw money at this project: multiple submersibles, multiple film crews, cameras all over the place. Also infrared lighting, which accounts for the appearance of some of the video previews.

I would like to know what the recipe for that gloppy squid lure Steve O’Shea is mixing up. He calls it a squid “aphrodisiac”…and he tasted it. Squid breath!


Ah, the aphrodisiac is squid bits run through a blender, a squid milkshake. Do not try something analogous if you are looking for a human aphrodisiac.


Hmm. They’re kind of setting this up as a conflict between the three scientists involved — Widder, O’Shea, and Kubodera, and portraying O’Shea as ‘controversial’. Really? We’ll see if there’s any real drama or if this is exaggerated and contrived (I suspect the latter).


Real science is often tedious. This show is just giving us the highlights — O’Shea just went on a 7 hour dive in a submersible, we got to see a couple of brief shots of some lovely jellyfish and a couple of small squid (which were nice!)


I guess this is build up. 45 minutes in, we’ve seen all three scientists do a dive, and all three fail. That’s OK, I think they’re illustrating how science is done about as effectively as you can with a television entertainment.


This so reminds me of going fishing, trying different lures semi-randomly to find out what they’re biting.

Oh, wait, they are fishing!


I’ve been watching for an hour and ten minutes, and they finally flash a glimpse of a large squid at us. Need…more…data. Getting a little thin here.


It figures. All the people hanging about underwater in submersibles…nada. Unmanned probe left to record unmonitored for 30 consecutive hours…success!


It is now sinking in that that 30 seconds of a giant squid lunging at a robot probe has been padded out to an hour and a half. It’s spectacular footage, but there really isn’t that much of it.


OK, stop this. Last 15 minutes seem to be solid commercials interlaced with one minute segments of documentary. This is getting ridiculous.


Finally! A giant squid just hangs onto some bait while brightly lit for 23 minutes…and they show us about a minute of it. Why not just drop that fluff and have the last half hour be nothing but continuous footage of the 26 foot long beast hanging there? That’s what I want!


My final assessment: mixed. They got some really, really good video, but apparently they didn’t think it was enough, and so they padded it out way too much. There were some half-assed attempts at the beginning to play up conflict and drama between the researchers, but they didn’t pan out and weren’t at all relevant; the stuff about “monsters” was distracting; the occasional attempts to compare this search to bigfoot, UFOs, and the Loch Ness monster — only real — was just annoying. There was some promising set up of the methodology, but not enough about the biology.

The people who made the show clearly didn’t think just the video footage of the squid was sufficiently engaging. They were wrong. They also clearly felt a need to milk it for every penny of commercial time they could get.

I look forward to when just the raw footage of the squid is released. That’s what I want to see.

45 comments

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  1. 1
    irisvanderpluym

    Oh, man. I really wanted to see this. I just arrived in London — & forgot to set my DVR in New York to record it. Iris haz a sad.

  2. 2
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    I love how the divers say “medium to large squid” and the fellows on the surface hear “medium to large GIANT squid.”

    The controversy, or rival theories, was whether this animal is indifferent to noise and light or would be scared away. Since the medium is very dense and it has the world’s largest eyeballs, it is sensitive to them.

  3. 3
    Rob Grigjanis

    What, no Ancient Aliens? Or is that The History Channel?

  4. 4
    michaeld

    OOOOO cool octopus….

  5. 5
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    They’re drinking Kraken wine! That should do it.

  6. 6
    Crudely Wrott

    Folks, we really gotta pool our money and get one of those submersibles. Then we could go get our own giant squid and drape it over the top of PZ’s house with the two feeding tentacles flanking his front door.

    “Mind the clawed suckers while your wiping your feet, please.”

  7. 7
    michaeld

    Unmanned probes have all the fun. First mars now giant squids :(

  8. 8
    kelecable

    I was wondering if this was going to be actually worth watching (with the whole media circus in tow) or if the scientists should have just uploaded their video on Youtube and saved us all the trouble.

  9. 9
    Stardrake

    You know, I think the squid the Triton filmed may be the same one the robot photographed–note there were no feeding tentacles. Makes sense–something that size would almost have to have a territory.

  10. 10
    michaeld

    Oh look the mythbuster episode where they shot the cannonball through the house is on right after…..

  11. 11
    carlie

    Have you gotten to the part yet where Ethel burned the kidney pie?

  12. 12
    PZ Myers

    #7: Wait for the raw footage on youtube.

  13. 13
    Crudely Wrott

    Well, the final few minutes were worth the wait given all the interesting tech that I got to see and there was some interesting background on the principles involved in the search. Yet I can’t help recalling how much amazing footage Jacques Cousteau could cram into a single hour.

    In all, when you think of how long the search for this animal in its native habitat behaving naturally has taken, the show was very cool. Worth waiting for even if not for having to endure the length of it.

  14. 14
    Amphiox

    You know, I think the squid the Triton filmed may be the same one the robot photographed–note there were no feeding tentacles. Makes sense–something that size would almost have to have a territory.

    Now there is an interesting hypothesis!

    But I thought I saw what looked like a stump of a severed tentacle on the sub-dive film, while it was said that the squid in the robot footage had no sign of the tentacles, not even stumps….

  15. 15
    PZ Myers

    #9: You get mythbusters? We get some awful melodramatic bullshit called “Dual Survival”. TV…OFF.

  16. 16
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    I am grateful for the massive money thrown at this project. Way way way less grateful for the melodramatic narration, the University of Phoenix ads, the stupid DirecTV sexism genie, the contrived conflict between the scientists, and the not so subtle sexist/racist descriptions of Widder and Kubodera. Seriously, even SonSpawn commented on it. If a freaking 17 year old boy can notice it, it’s really fairly obvious. And then he wandered off, saying that the narration was so annoying that he would watch the squid footage on youtube where he wouldn’t have to hear the narrator.

    Also, both Spawns commented (and I agree) that O’Shea looks and acts quite a bit like Sili. It was actually a tad odd.

    Did I mention . . . SQUID????!!!!????!

  17. 17
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    DaughterSpawn suggested that Discovery should next do a whole documentary on the grandly fabulous tedium of wildlife observation.

  18. 18
    phoenicianromans

    Ah, the aphrodisiac is squid bits run through a blender, a squid milkshake. Do not try something analogous if you are looking for a human aphrodisiac.

    How the hell can you call yourself a scientist if you can make this statement without experimental proof?

    Or… have you actually tried it?

  19. 19
    michaeld

    There were some nice parts but it was low on the science, high on monster talk and padding. Near the end there was a brutal commercial break ugh. Hopefully we can see the full footage soon cause that was a bit disappointing.

  20. 20
    Rumtopf

    @5
    Wouldn’t we need a colossal squid for that?

  21. 21
    Lofty

    Thank you all for commenting on this, now I don’t have to wait for it to screen here. Youtoob will probably have it up soon. “Science” TV shows, how hard can they be?

  22. 22
    Crudely Wrott

    Either giant or colossal squid would do for the front door treatment, Rumtopf, but I’d suggest the giant because it is somewhat less heavy. I wouldn’t want to crack PZ’s roof rafters. Also, the longer tentacles of the giant could be made to drape more gracefully . . . er, more menacingly.

  23. 23
    Rumtopf

    But the colossal squid is the one with the sweet tentacle hooks :’c

  24. 24
    jaranath

    I’m happy to see O’Shea and Widder get to be a part of it, and I’m glad Widder’s ideas got some results. I saw some early versions of her work back in the 90s and it was exciting even then.

    I agree it could have been the squid footage plus some minimal background. It’d be padded-out at even an hour, but, well, they DID throw tons of money at this. Gotta milk it. Which raises an interesting question: Does this mean that we could leverage Discovery’s bad-science dreck to pay for good (if whiz-bang camera-friendly) science?

  25. 25
    Menyambal

    I watched most of the first hour, and was a little disappointed. There was some good technology they skipped over and some human drama they over-did, but poorly. I skipped out, and popped back in for what seems to have been the money shot, which was impressive.

    Yeah, put the raw footage online, please.

  26. 26
    borax

    P.Z. Don’t hate on Dual Survival.They are just LARPers without fighting orcs.

  27. 27
    microraptor

    I was two minutes into the show when I realized they were presenting it exactly like the F-ing Mermaids show they did last year. Then there was the already mentioned overdone DRAMA! between the scientists. Then there was all the CGI and the narrator telling us that giant squid are really mysterious, both of which were repeated every five minutes or so, just in case the audience forgot, I guess.

    After reading PZ’s comments about how it ends, I decided to quit. I assume he’ll post links to the raw footage after it becomes available- like him, that’s what I was interested in in the first place.

  28. 28
    Bob Dowling

    A 25 minutes show of giant squid raw footage with a commentary could easily be made to work.

    You need a couple of squid biologists to talk about the bits of squid anatomy currently in shot and how they relate to the squid’s ecology/environment/behaviour. You need a couple of engineers who can describe just how hard it is / how much fun they had getting these shots. (The two tend to be related.)

    Think of it like the better commentaries you get talking over films in the DVD extras.

  29. 29
    neoclinus

    Finally! A giant squid just hangs onto some bait while brightly lit for 23 minutes…and they show us about a minute of it. Why not just drop that fluff and have the last half hour be nothing but continuous footage of the 26 foot long beast hanging there? That’s what I want!

    My thoughts exactly. In addition to the other things folks have brought up one of the things that really annoyed me was how much they hyped up the mystique of the giant squid and glossed over the many fascinating things about squid biology in general that don’t involve monster stories. Seeing footage of a living Taningia danae was just as exiting for me as the giant squid, but they completely brushed passed it, (oh, it’s *just* a seven-foot long squid with fist-sized photophores…). Take almost any deep water squid, and chances are we know next to nothing about them and have probably seen relatively few of them alive. The giant squid is by far not the least known of them. All in all though, what footage they did show was pretty damn cool. Can’t wait to see the whole thing.

  30. 30
    neoclinus

    Blockquote fail. Sorry guys, that top bit was supposed to be the quote.

  31. 31
    nickcan

    Yea, I saw that footage about 3 or 4 weeks ago. Since NHK (Japanese public TV) helped sponsor the dive, they have a special about the squid video on TV earlier this month. It was an hour special, and they didn’t play up any rivalry at all. About 20 minutes in we saw the clip of the squid “snapping” at the bait then swimming away, and I got all disappointed. Then for the last half of the show they went down in that super sweet bubble-dome sub (Where do I buy tickets?) and played the long clip. It was amazing, they just played the entire footage of the squid just hanging there while the camera zoomed in and took all the closeups you could dream of. While the screen had nothing but squid for a solid 15-20 minutes they had some narration over the top explaining all about the physiology of the creature. It was amazing!

    I guess that’s the difference between public TV and the discovery channel.

  32. 32
    drksky

    When I first started watching I couldn’t believe they padded it out to two hours. They could have definitely just made it an hour and covered more of the biology instead of the drama bullshit that seems to be required for any Discovery show nowadays. I can see the need to sell the story because of the need for funding, thought.

    Here’s hoping that they didn’t sell the rights to the video to Discovery to hoard and that it will show up on YouTube in its entirety once the initial few runs of the show are done.

  33. 33
    Jafafa Hots

    All Discovery channel “documentaries” focus on the human interaction stuff, the fights and frayed nerves and whatnot… and if there aren’t any, they FAKE them.

    Seriously.

  34. 34
    garydargan

    And you paid to watch all those annoying commercials!!!!
    Nuff said give us the squid footage with the science and technology commentary. Bugger the manufactured controversy and the boring bloody annoying ads.

  35. 35
    Rip Steakface

    @garydargan #33

    If you count having cable TV as paying to watch them, yes. Otherwise, you just have to suffer through them to see the 30 seconds of squid footage in a 90 minute “special.”

  36. 36
    alanworsley

    Just finished watching a BBC program on Africa by David Attenborough. 45 minutes of pure animal footage – much of it never before seen, like male Giraffes fighting or Black Rhinoceros behaviour at night. Then at the very end is 15 minutes of explaining what the cameramen had to endure to get that footage. My only questions is….what are these “Co-mmerr-shals” you speak of?

  37. 37
    lactosefermenter

    “The people who made the show clearly didn’t think just the video footage of the squid was sufficiently engaging. They were wrong.”

    I agree with you however looking at it from the Discovery Channel’s viewpoint…if the show is to be a success they need more than just cephalopod afficianados to watch it. They need those who have just a casual interest as well. They are competing with and losing to shows like Real Housewives, Honeyboo-boo, etc,,.so unfortunately they assumed the “if you can’t beat them, join them” position…

  38. 38
    Bob Dowling

    My only questions is….what are these “Co-mmerr-shals” you speak of?

    The idea is to — hey! buy our stuff! — split a programme into small enough — no! buy our stuff instead! — pieces to make them easy to mentally — our stuff is better! — digest and make the whole programme — there’s nothing quite like our stuff! — easier to understand.

  39. 39
    azportsider

    Well, it was better than the usual crap ‘Discovery’ Channel shows, but only marginally, IMO.

  40. 40
    LykeX

    @Bob Dowling

    That actually demonstrates the problem with commercials very well. By the time I got to the end of your sponsored sentence, I had forgotten what you were talking about.

  41. 41
    Blondin

    This is why I never turn the TV on anymore. Not only is there only about 5 minutes between ads but 2 minutes of that is usually ‘teasers’ for the upcoming, anticlimactic 47 seconds of interesting footage the entire program has been built around.

  42. 42
    throwaway

    That squid sure was awesome.

  43. 43
    w00dview

    neoclinus # 28

    In addition to the other things folks have brought up one of the things that really annoyed me was how much they hyped up the mystique of the giant squid and glossed over the many fascinating things about squid biology in general that don’t involve monster stories.

    You need to see Inside Nature’s Giants. They did a special dissecting a giant squid. In between looking at the giant’s anatomy, they showcased aspects of cephalopod biology by looking at other species. It was one of the finest natural history programmes I have seen in years. I don’t know if that show is over in the US but if you can get the opportunity, go see it.

    Alanworsley # 35
    Yes Africa has been very good. I am really enjoying the fact that it is focusing on more obscure wildlife. It’s about time TV producers realised that there are other species out there other than freaking wildebeests and lions. My only complaint is that they did not look at Rift Valley cichlids yet!

  44. 44
    Elayne Riggs

    I liked it for the most part, but now reading about the Japanese version I would definitely have preferred to see that. And yeah, the commercials set my teeth on edge.

  45. 45
    shoeguy

    The squid footage was much better than I really expected but the ratio of “squiddage” to setup and ads was extremely low. I recorded it and jumped through most of the ads but I do hope folks got a snoot full of promos of shows about rednecks with heavy equipment tearing up the Alaskan wilderness or Amazonian rainforest for the purpose of getting about an orange juice can of gold.

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