Today Growing with Science is hosting STEM Friday, the meme that highlights recently released Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books for children (as well as older favorites). The STEM Friday book meme has been ongoing for a year, but now you can find it in one place each week – at the new STEM Friday blog. You should go check it out.
Our featured guest today has some unusual characteristics.
It is an animal that:

  • has a beak
  • is related to a slug
  • has the largest eyes of any animal
  • is eaten by sperm whales.

Can you guess what it is?

The book Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster (Smithsonian) by Mary M Cerullo and Clyde F.E. Roper will give you all the answers to this mystery, or at least all the answers that are known so far.

One of the authors, Dr. Clyde Roper, is a zoologist at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History who has devoted his life to finding out more about giant squid.

It isn’t easy studying giant squid, however. They live in the depths of the oceans, so far down only one person has ever recorded images of a living specimen (by sending a camera deep into the ocean). How do scientists like Dr. Roper study something that they can’t see? Dr. Roper looks for rare specimens that wash up on shore and also examines sperm whales. He studies sperm whales because they dive down and eat giant squid. In fact, it was the sucker-shaped scars left on the skin of the sperm whales by giant squid tentacles that helped scientists figure out how big they were.

In this video, Dr. Roper discusses some of his findings. The film editing is a bit “unusual,” but I think you can still see his passion for his subject.

CREDIT: Smithsonian Institution

Doesn’t that make you want to become a zoologist, too?

What I really like about this book is it shows how marine biologists use clues from a variety of sources to learn about these mysterious creatures. For example, scientists can estimate how many giant squid are in the ocean depths by calculating the number of giant squid a sperm whale eats and then multiplying that number by the number of sperm whales there are. Assuming sperm whales are not catching all giant squids that are living in the ocean, the numbers suggest there are millions of giant squid. Amazing!

How do scientists figure out how many giant squid a sperm whale eats? It is based on the number of giant squid beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales, because the hard beaks are not digested. This leads to the part of the book that is not for the squeamish. Some of the photographs show researchers dissecting a sperm whale carcass that washed up on shore, in order to find out what its stomach contents were. It is a bloody, smelly process. Some of the photographs of the dead giant squids that have been found aren’t that pleasant, either. Sensitive children should probably be warned about the graphic nature of some of the photographs, but the story is so fascinating, they should be encouraged to give it a try. And the color photographs of the squids relatives, particularly the cuttlefishes, are just enchanting.

I really could go on and on about this book. The bottom line is that Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster is a fascinating look at a mysterious creature, and a wonderful glimpse into the scientific process as well. I highly recommend it, particularly for budding marine biologists. Take it along on your next trip to the beach.

For more giant squid information and lesson ideas:

Giant Squid at  Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

Ocean Portal – For educators has links to many lessons about the ocean, for example:

Museum of New Zealand has a kid-friendly site with activities and information about the related Colossal Squid

The University of Arizona has a lesson:  The Cool Communication of Cephalopods

Spineless Smarts- a NOVA program about studying cuttlefish – too cute

A book about glass squid – shows relative sizes of different squid and sperm whales compared to a semi-trailer truck.

Did you know that April has been National Poetry month? To celebrate, The STEM Friday blog has a post about STEM Haiku . Here is my haiku inspired by the book:

Search for sea monster
Giant squid swimming so deep
Tentacle comes up

Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Capstone Press (January 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1429680237
ISBN-13: 978-1429680233

This plush toy might be interesting, as well.

Disclosures: Book was provided by publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.