Freaky Fish Friday: Nat Geo’s Dr. Brady Barr has a Dangerous Encounter with a Humboldt Squid

Filed Under (Freaky Fish Friday, On TV) by Alexa & Cindy on 30-07-2010

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We’ve taken a little break after our Sharktakular last week, but we’re back, and want to wish you a happy Freaky Fish Friday and a great weekend.

Today, Nat Geo Channel serves up our FFF via its Dangerous Encounters  episode featuring an ambitious research team that wants to put an underwater camera in places its never been.

Tonight, at 9p.m. ET/6p.m. PT, that camera will attempt to reside on a Humboldt squid, a ferocious predator whose mouth you never want to get your fingers anywhere near.

Alexa caught up with the show’s host, Dr. Brady Barr, and had a few biting questions she just had to ask.

Check out this amazing video featuring Barr’s second encounter with a Humboldt squid, then read Alexa’s Q & A with the good Doctor.

What would you do if you came face-to-face with a Humboldt squid?


Alexa: What made you want to study Humboldt squids?

Brady Barr: Im always fascinated with predators, especially little known predators, and ones that you can’t see in captivity. They epitomize “wildness” and “untamed”.

Animals, like the Humboldts, or adult Great White sharks, are so special because it doesnt matter who you are, how much money you have, or how powerful you might be, you still have to be graced by their presence. You cant go to a zoo or aquarium to see these beasts, you have to simply be graced by them in the wild. For me, it simply does not get any better than that.

A: How do you feel about the risks of doing this job?

BB: The risks concern me greatly, but the thirst to learn more about these mysterious animals is also great. Expeditions involving animals and in places that are not in the realm of my expertise are always very stressful. I did take some precautions. I had an expert diver in the water with me at all times who’s sole responsibility was my safety.

At the end of the day I am willing to take some chances, especially when it comes to such a charismatic, little understood predator as the Humboldt Squid.

In addition, the chance to do something that has never been done before (put an untethered camera on one to acquire first ever footage of these creatures in their element, at depth without the aid of lights, submersibles, or divers) is just too alluring…like the song of the mythical siren! In today’s world there aren’t many big apex predators that the scientific community doesn’t know much about. I was honored to be on this expedition.

A: How did you feel when you slipped the camera sleeve over the first squid?

BB: I was very skeptical. I wasn’t convinced that the sleeve design would work, so I was much relieved as well as surprised when it actually stayed on the squid. It was awesome to touch such an animal, that so little is known about, one that is so mysterious, and calls it’s home the abyss. For a guy that grew up in the cornfields of southern Indiana, it was beyond my wildest dreams!

A: What did you think when the squid didn’t immediately swim away?

BB: That didn’t surprise me. I have worked with wild animals for 20 years, and i have learned that being captured is a stressful, exhausting, ordeal, for them. It takes them time to recover and get their bearings. I am sure we would be the same way. I was just glad the squid decided t return to the depths instead of look for a little payback.

A: Was it you holding the octopus? If so, what did it feel like?

BB: Yes, I captured the octopus. It was so thrilling, because its a really big animal, and really powerful, yet very methodical, content, almost passive. It showed no ill will towards us interacting with it, no aggression what so ever. They’re very intelligent animals. I felt honored to be interacting with it.

A: Do you think the Humboldt squid would win in a battle against a Great White?

No way! The Humboldt is an awesome predator, but few predators can stand up against a one or two-ton, 18-foot Great White. I just returned from a Great White Expedition, so I got to see their awesome, almost incomprehensible power first hand. Now, if we were talking about a giant squid (Architeuthis), of 60 feet long, then I would put my money on the squid.

A: You learned a lot of new things about Humboldts with this research. What do and/or your colleagues plan to do with it, and what would you like to find out next about the Humboldt?

BB: I’m no squid expert, but the squid researchers we had with us were simply astounded with the footage we captured. Not only did we get a glimpse into the world of the squid, we also saw communication between individuals, social behavior, as well as aggression.

I have done a lot of research on bite force, so I was especially intrigued by the bite force data we gathered. A thousand pound bite was simply mind blowing for me, I’m not sure I even believe it!

A bite of that magnitude makes it one of the strongest biters on the planet, up there with crocs, and hyenas. And the squid is an invertebrate! Unreal. I definitely plan to return to the sea of Cortez and do some more bite force experiments.

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Freaky Fish Friday: the Ratfish

Filed Under (Freaky Fish Friday) by Alexa & Cindy on 18-06-2010

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FFFToday’s FFF is a guest post by the multi-talented science journalist Allie Wilkinson, owner of the blog OH, for the Love of Science! We’ve already got chills and thrills over her Ratfish – check it out, with pics and a video, and see what you think!  Enjoy.

Spotted ratfish are unlike anything you have ever seen before. 

They have smooth, scaleless skin that is silvery-bronze in color, with sparkling shades of gold, blue, green, or a pinky-purple sort of color, and are speckled with white spots.  Their tail is almost half of their body length and looks like a rat’s tail, which is how they get their name. 

They have a long venomous spine in front of the dorsal fin, and their pectoral fins are big triangles, that go straight out from the body and look like airplane wings.  On their cute rabbit-like faces, they have large emerald green eyes that are able to reflect light, similarly to the eyes of a cat.  Oh, and they have an extra sexual organ in the middle of their forehead, like a horn on a unicorn, which they use to hold onto the female’s dorsal fin during mating.  Is that freaky enough for you?

Spotted ratfish are among the deepest living fishes, ranging from depths of 0 to 3,000 feet below sea level.  They are related to sharks and rays, and are considered to be the missing link between the bony and cartilaginous fishes because they have characteristics of both.

Ratfish flap their large wing-like pectoral fins to move, which makes them look incredibly graceful.  Normally, they glide over the seafloor in search for crunchy foods like crabs and clams.  But when I took care of these little guys at the Florida Aquarium, we would feed them shrimp.  Feeding the ratfish was always one of my favorite parts of the day, because they turned into graceful little ballerinas at feeding time.  Imagine water ballet, with all of  its synchronized swimmers.  Well, when I would feed the ratfish, they would swim up to the surface, and bring the tops of their bodies out of the water, twirling around, as if they were dancing.

I’ve been to a LOT of aquariums around the world (about 18 or so!) and the Florida Aquarium is the only one that I’ve been to that has these little guys.  I’m glad they do, because I probably wouldn’t have ever found out about such a cool, cute, weird, and freaky little fish otherwise.  If you get a chance to ever see them in person, make sure you do!


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Freaky Fish Friday – J.Y. Cousteau edition: the Sea Pig

Filed Under (Freaky Fish Friday) by Alexa & Cindy on 11-06-2010

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Hi, Ocean Lovers!

Happy 100th birthday, Jacques Cousteau! Today’s FFF is a crazy being we are sure Captain Cousteau would be fascinated by if he were here today. (Have you seen the Google homepage today?)

I’d like to introduce you to…THE SEA PIG! I’ve been waiting for weeks to post on this creature, so here goes:

The Sea Pig, aka Scotoplanes globosa, does indeed look pretty globby. It’s actually kind of cute, and it’s a member of the sea cucumber family.

Sea cucumbers are called echinoderms, and include starfish and sea urchins, too. Overall, there are about 1,250 species of sea cucumbers. And you guessed it – many of them have soft bodies and actually look a bit like cucumbers. Sometimes a small group of these cucumbers are collectively called Sea Pigs.

Some Sea Pigs live in shallow waters, while some live deep down, at the bottom of abysses. Scotoplanes globosa is one such deep dweller, living almost four miles under the ocean’s surface.

Scientists don’t know much about these creatures, but when they do encounter them, it tends to be in a group. They eat a microscopic diet of detritus, which they scoop up in their big mouths.

Sea Pigs have been studied recently in the Southern Ocean off of Antarctica, where they live in more shallow waters. What’s really crazy that scientists have found is that parasites like snails can somehow grow inside a Sea Pig’s body! 

Check out the below slideshow, and also Echinoblog for more creepy and kinda cute Sea Pig pics!

What do you think – creepy, awesome, or cute?

Have a great summer weekend and hope you are enjoying your World Oceans Day week!


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