Just recently, I had a bit of fun poking around online and sharpening my admittedly sparse google-chops on a bit of quick fact-checking that actually turned out to be rather fun.
I was clicking on links on one of my google alerts emails and one such link took me to an online news outlet called The Hindu.
The link took me directly to the “health” section of the paper, but just for giggles I clicked on the “science and technology” department to see what was there.
Mind you, this is the first time I’ve been on this site, and the headline that screamed out at me from one of the articles immediately raised my skeptical hackles:
Go ahead…click on it…for much sensationalist hilarity.
I thought to myself “This could be fun…Now that my red flags have been raised, let’s see if this is just as bogus as I expect, or otherwise. Let’s find out if this is for real…or not.”
The first bit of text caught my attention:
Millions of giant squids have been devouring fish stock and attacking humans in the Pacific Ocean, causing potential threat to marine ecosystem.
This is, needless to say, a rather bold claim. Surely something like this would be on a more mainstream news outlet if there were anything to it, so why not on CNN or even Faux Nu’z? I also wondered about the confusion in the article of giant squids with Humboldt squids, since to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge of zoology, they are separate species.
This and the image-file included with the article being billed as that of a thawing Colossal squid, though obviously not being colossal even for a squid, raised still more red flags.
My figurative hackles where practically electrified.
But this minor technicality did not deter me from reading further. I also started looking for references I could check up on, you know, names and organizations, and low and behold, a fellow was mentioned, and allegedly quoted, by the name of Scott Cassell, who was reported as saying:
“Within five minutes my right shoulder had been pulled out of its socket. I had 30 big marks on my head and throat and one squid hit me so hard I saw stars. They then grabbed on to me and pulled me down so fast that I could not equalise and I ruptured my eardrum.”
“They are the most opportunistic predators on the planet. They eat everything in their path. One Humboldt squid in the course of two years can eat 27,000lb of fish. What is going to be the impact on the environment?”
I wondered if he knew of the quotations attributed to him by this highly reputable media outlet (*chortle*) provided he even existed at all and wasn’t simply the product of a double-fiction…
I googled his name, and found this link at the top of the search results, on a scuba-diving forum with an entry dated from November 20, 2007, which involved statements on an episode of Monster Quest also attributed to Cassell.
The statements posted weren’t smoking-gun evidence of a media hoax, but they didn’t sound at all like someone who just a mouse click away had been pronouncing raving dire warnings about the dangers of an infestation of evil squids (Hey! Creatures with tentacles are cool!).
I also noticed statements exactly like those quoted above on sites like the ForteanTimes and 2012 forums, further ramping up the suspicion factor. All examples I’ve found of the above quotes appear to originate from and cite the Daily Express article linked to below.
A bit of further looking indicated that the aforementioned quotes have probably been fabricated.
The pieces are falling into place…
The statement on the scuba forum, admittedly done via a proxy, sounded much more sober, more like the statements of a former military diver than a two-bit extra from the movie Tentacles.
But agreeing with my prejudices is not proof, so I decided to check up on the Wiki article on Humboldt squids, which lo and behold, do not appear to be the same species as Giant squid, much less Colossal squid.
Now, Wikipedia is far from the final word, but I was busy correcting a major error to a post from the previous day that one of my readers had caught on to and was kind enough to point out, so I looked about on other more reliable sources, which by and large supported the most of Wiki statements on these majestic creatures.
There’s this article on Scientific American about them, for example…
…and this post on Science20 with Humboldt Squid Hit The Tabloids pretty well appears to have nailed it.
But just so you can check out the text of the Daily Express article dated August 29, that appears to have been an almost verbatim cut and paste job onto The Hindu article dated afterward, Yep, it seems that though there is a population increase of these cool creatures in some parts of the oceans, we’re in no danger of being devoured by ravenous razor-tendriled Lovecraftian sushi any time soon.
I think I can safely write this off as spectacularly bad, but amusing, journalistic reporting, par for the course for tabloids.
Not exactly professional skeptic’s work, but nonetheless tons of fun!