Posted: 02/02/2006

 

PBS Nature: Encountering Sea Monsters

(2005)

by Parama Chaudhury




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Let’s just say I’ll never see “squid” on a restaurant menu in the same way again. Encountering Sea Monsters introduces us to an octopus which flashes its neon rings in anticipation of an attack, cuttlefish that emit clouds of color to make it seem much larger than it is, and a trail of crunchy crab legs which leads the explorers to their quarry. If you think of sea creatures as the warm and fuzzy characters in movies like Finding Nemo which party on the sea floor to the tune of “Under the Sea”, think again.

Underwater cameraman, Bob Cranston, accompanies top marine scientists around the world in search of the most spectacular, and threatening, cephalopods. The film opens with them tracking the remains of a crab in order to find the creature that had just had such a tasty meal. Later on, we get to see an octopus actually crunching its way through a lively-looking crab. Even from a brief glimpse like this, it’s easy to see how some of the bigger of the species could overwhelm an unwary diver in a matter of minutes. Some of the most spectacular pictures in this film are close-ups of the octopus—you get to see how its remarkable skin changes in color and texture according to its needs and the environment. Given such amazing adaptability, it’s obvious that this creature could be difficult target, or a stealthy killer.

The flamboyant Cuttlefish, so named for the clouds of color surrounding it, is another object that fills you with awe. No bigger than a golf ball in actual size, the pink and violet clouds it releases gives you a sense of a much more imposing enemy. Also found off the coast of Indonesia, are the deadly blue-ringer octopus, which are small like the cuttlefish but as the scientists tell us, there is no known antidote for its poison. Both these creatures use color to communicate with their surroundings, which inspires an entertaining experiment in Australia. A Humboldt squid, one of the most dangerous predators in the sea world, is presented with a mirror reflection of itself. Suspicious at first, it soon becomes enamored of its image, so much so that it doesn’t notice when another male starts mating with its partner.

Encountering Sea Monsters can be as entertaining as an action movie, and as scary as a horror movie. Overall, it is a remarkable document of a world that has been Disney-fied in our imaginations, but is in reality, a vibrant and terrifying spectacle.

Parama Chaudhury is a film critic and economics professor living in New England.



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