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    Re: Polynesian navigation
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2009 Jun 7, 19:49 -0700

    Ken, you wrote:
    "They would have to be awfully close to the surface for anyone to see it
    above water. Do squid ever hang around the surface?"
    The passage in Lewis specifies from one or two feet to more than a fathom 
    below the surface. On a dark night, in the clear waters of the Pacific, you 
    could easily see a flashing squid a few feet down. The majority of squid 
    species have light-emitting organs. Some of these produce displays which have 
    been called "dazzling" and "like fireworks". Some can produce strobing 
    patterns that run rapidly down the entire length of the animal from the end 
    of the head to the tips of the tentacles. The description in Lewis of 
    "underwater lightning" would fit nicely. I got a kick out of this description 
    (found on the web) of the flashes from the large squid Taningia danae: "Even 
    though they do nothing to deter a 60-foot long sperm whale, the stroboscopic 
    flashes of Taningia must be among the most terrifying sights in the blackness 
    of the abyss?if the prey manages to survive the shock of a seven-foot-long 
    carnivorous squid with stroboscopic arm flashers." 
    And yes, many squid come near the surface at night to feed. 
    One might say, 'if they're so common, how could they be unknown?' But just to 
    remind us, note that the first images of a live giant squid in its natural 
    habitat were acquired only five years ago --and giant squid are not uncommon. 
    There's plenty left to be discovered about marine life in the deep oceans. 
    Also, we're only talking about an unknown behavior here. The animal itself is 
    probably familiar. Otherwise, it wouldn't be common enough to serve any 
    navigational purpose.
    Could squid somehow indicate the direction of the nearest land? Just 
    speculating here, there might be some advantage in hunting from orienting the 
    long axis of the animal's body perpendicular to sound waves generated by 
    waves striking the islands. Pulses of light along the length of the animal 
    would then show the direction of land quite nicely. Or it might be a simple 
    daily migratory pattern. Maybe we should transplant some of these animals, 
    whatever they are, to the Atlantic.
    And you wrote:
    "To me it sounds more like chemiluminescent bacteria or protozoans"
    Of course, it might be some micro-organism, but many large organisms produce 
    much more spectacular light displays (especially, but not exclusively, 
    squid). Also Lewis notes that his informants distinguished the "underwater 
    lightning" from common bio-luminescence which is in fact produced by 
    micro-organisms and gives that "glowing water" effect in disturbed water. 
    Finally, the fact that this "te lapa" is supposedly not seen within about 
    eight miles of shore seems to argue against a micro-organism or other 
    drifting plankton. 
    So how could we prove any of this? It seems to me that anything visible from a 
    small boat on the sea surface would also be visible from a low-flying 
    airplane or balloon. So we fly an airplane above some of the areas Lewis 
    described and take video with a sensitive low-light camera. Then look for 
    streaks of light. So get me a camera, an airplane, and a ticket to a South 
    Pacific paradise, and I'll get right on it. :-)
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