Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kraken: the Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid

Every time I've told people that I've been reading a book about squid and other cephalopods over the last few days, I've been met with weird looks.  "Why?" has been everyone's question.  And indeed, why choose to read Wendy Williams' Kraken: the Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid

My answer: research purposes.  I was interested in various cephalopods for a world-building project I'm working on, and so went looking for an adult book on them at the library.  Well, either the library or on Amazon.  Wherever I started, it led me to the library and Williams' book. 

Right from the beginning, I was hooked.  Williams' voice was perfect, keeping my interest with her facts, all the while weaving in the story of Julie Stewart's research of the Humboldt squid.  I'll admit, I was a bit worried that the science would overwhelm me (as I have felt in a couple of the books I have started reading but have yet to finish).  But luckily, high school biology seems to have come to my rescue (however I managed to remember this stuff is a bit of a mystery...), coupled with my more recent studies in psychology.  Between the two I managed to follow along rather well with the science of squid.

There were a few things that I found quite surprising.  While being very different from us, cephalopods (and squid in particular), have given us great incite into how our own brains work.  Even more impressive, much of this incite has come quite recently, the last forty or so years.  One squid, Loligo pealei, is a tiny creature with a very large axon; that axon is much bigger than a human axon, making it much easier to study.  Thanks to that squid, and stronger microscopes, we have been able to see exactly what happens within an axon.

But beyond the brain stuff, the whole book was filled with interesting things about cephalopods.  From their colour-changing skin to their puzzle-solving abilities, this was a perfect introduction to them for me (who had very little knowledge of them prior to reading this book).  My one issue is that I often had a hard time keeping the researchers straight - Williams went back and forth between them (and there's quite a lot of them)!  But other than that, I really enjoyed reading Kraken.

1 comment:

Shauna said...

I read a couple of reviews on Goodreads, and I have to admit that some of the reviewers made a valid point as well: Williams seems quite callous in her approach to cephalopods. There was one scene in particular where I actually reread it a few times because I couldn't believe what she was describing (one of the tiny squid being killed so neuroscientists could practice removing an axon). While I do understand the benefits these creatures have had for medical science, it was sometimes hard to read about how they are killed for science. Especially knowing that they are intelligent (if alien) beings.