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    Re: Polynesian navigation
    From: John Huth
    Date: 2009 Jun 8, 10:26 -0400
    Do you have any info on the squid light flashes?   If they've been recorded on video somewhere, it would be interesting to see.

    On Sun, Jun 7, 2009 at 10:49 PM, <frankreed{at}historicalatlas.com> wrote:

    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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