Scientists Are Sadistics, Arrogant, Cruel, Etc.

Sue Falconberg over at the American Chronicle lambastes scientists in her writeup Anderson Cooper.

…the reporters back home showed footage, at the tail end of the night, of a giant squid recently yanked out of its home and killed for ‘scientific reasons’ and then the reporters joked about it being ‘calamari,’ etc. This squid had a life that was taken from it by the arrogance and stupidity and cruelty of these sadists we call ‘scientists.’ To ‘study’ it. They killed it to study it. Not much animal sensitivity and awareness there. Or in the show’s coverage of this incident, as if the life of the squid were trivial. What makes the elephant matter, and not the squid? They both have lives that belong to them–or, rather, belonged to them–until humans took them away.

The American Chronicle appears to be sponsoring a “Hate a Scientist Series.” As you may remember Paula Moore (PETA) went on a tirade about scientists and what supposedly they said in reference to the recent capture of the Colossal Squid. Falconberg continues on this same rant with the same inaccuracies.

Did Scientists Capture the Colossal Squid? 

The Colossal Squid (not Giant, not even the same genus) was “yanked” out of the water by fisherman not scientists.  

Does the CCAMLR require the Colossal Squid be Kept? 

Several news agencies reported that the fisherman are not allowed to discard bycatch under international law.  Now I want to admit I am not up on my international law; however, unlike Falconberg or Moore, I tried to find out the exact wording of this proposed act.  More than likely the act refers to regulations set by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources as part of the Antarctic Treaty System.

Under CCAMLR there has been a major push to address both bycatch and discard issues. The measures in 2002 directly related to bycatch and discards addressed reporting (establishment of discard databases), gear regulations, bycatch limits, area and time restrictions, and mitigation measures. The CCAMLR framework is also utilized in other fishery management regimes where incidental catches of endangered species have attracted a high level of public awareness.  Thus the CCAMLR definitely requires some information on bycatch, although admittedly it is not clear whether the data is collected by an onboard observer (and thus bycatch can be discarded) or by officials present at offloading (requiring bycatch to be kept).  CCAMLR also requires zero discard of any waste or offal (viscera and trimmings of a butchered animal often considered inedible by humans).  This is to prevent both disruption of the fishery but to further reduce bycatch of marine birds and mammals.  The captured squid would appear to follow under this latter regulation.

Would the Colossal Squid lived if released?

Of course related to the issues raised by Moore and Falconberg, is the probability of survival if released.  Reports from the fisherman stated that they spent some time removing the individual from the hook and fish it was consuming.  Several studies shows that fin damage in squid due to to capture can lead to a mortality due to the onset of bacterial infections in the abrasions. Of course this combines with the physiological stress of being out of the water for an extended period.  So it is unlikely this individual would have survived if released.

Does the capture of the Colossal Squid add to knowledge of the species?  Will it add in future conservation efforts?

Both Moore and Falconberg, seem to ignore a very important issue.  Conservation, which we can redefine as a reduction of anthropogenic caused mortality, requires information about the basics of species biology.  As noted before we know relatively zilch, nil, nadda about this species.

“We know relatively nothing about them,” admits Steve O’Shea, director of the Earth and Oceanic Sciences Research Institute at the Auckland University of Technology and one of the world’s leading squid experts…”The scientific value is enormous. It’ll more than double our knowledge,” says O’Shea, who hopes the research will shed light on the species’ hunting and mating behavior, its age and its intelligence.

Ideally, we would observe an individual in situ to garner this information.  However, its ‘more common’ relative the giant squid was only captured on film recently.  More important the inferences that can be made from examining an individual’s anatomy and analysis of tissues can provide a wealth of information on function and physiology. 

Moore and Falconberg would both have you believe this issue is black and white. Do we kill the squid or not?  But the issue is gray…do we choose one squids death on the chance that we may be able to reduce the mortality of others?  They would also have you believe the animal’s death was in vain, but that clearly is not the case.

Do scientist care about the death of animals?

I am most troubled by the sweeping generalizations that all scientist see animal life as trivial.  Just like the masses some scientist care more than others.  A majority of us spend a significant amount of our time advocating for conservation.  Research on organisms is overseen by committees to strive toward humane treatment.  We are sensitive and aware of the ethical and philosophical issues, more than you realize, regarding our actions.

Dr. M (1628 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.