Squid Vs. Whale Diorama Liked By Humans, Aliens

One of my favorite moments in Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 classic (and still a great read!) Childhood's End occurs when the mysterious alien Overlords request a special exhibit for them to take back to their home planet.

They wanted to see the Earth's largest creatures locked in mortal combat.

The tableau might have been the work of some mad artist in a drugged delirium. Yet it was a painstaking copy from life: Nature herself was the artist here. The scene was one that, until the perfection of underwater television, few men had ever glimpsed—and even then only for seconds on those rare occasions when the giant antagonists thrashed their way to the surface. These battles were fought in the endless night of the ocean depths, where the sperm whales hunted for their food. It was food that objected strongly to being eaten alive — The long, saw-toothed lower jaw of the whale was gaping wide, preparing to fasten upon its prey. The creature's head was almost concealed beneath the writhing network of white, pulpy arms with which the giant squid was fighting desperately for life. Livid sucker-marks, twenty centimetres or more in diameter, had mottled the whale's skin where those arms had fastened. One tentacle was already a truncated stump, and there could be no doubt as to the ultimate outcome of the battle. When the two greatest beasts on earth engaged in combat, the whale was always the winner. For all the vast strength of its forest of tentacles, the squid's only hope lay in escaping before that patiently grinding jaw had sawn it to pieces. Its great expressionless eyes, half a metre across, stared at its destroyer—though, in all probability, neither creature could see the other in the darkness of the abyss.

The entire exhibit was more than thirty metres long, and had now been surrounded by a cage of aluminium girders to which the lifting tackle had been connected. Everything was ready, awaiting the Overlords' pleasure...

Clarke isn't making a prediction here, but I still couldn't resist this story, because the Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life has just opened a special exhibition with a renovated diorama that depicts this very encounter:


( Milstein Hall of Ocean Life )

The animation brings to life a scene that has fascinated visitors for decades—the sperm whale and giant squid diorama in the Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life, which is now celebrating the 10th anniversary of a masterful renovation.

In what is one of the most dramatic dioramas in the Museum, a giant squid is caught in the sperm whale’s mouth, its tentacles grasping at the whale’s head, which is actually an oversized snout. Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephulus) interpret reflections of sounds generated by this uniquely shaped snout, employing a form of echolocation akin to that used by bats, to “see” their way through deep, dark water and to hunt prey...

Sperm whales are known to dive over 6,500 feet in pursuit of food, staying under water for more than an hour. Of course, no humans have ever seen an encounter between a sperm whale and a giant squid, but the evidence is found in the stomachs of sperm whales that contain the indigestible beaks and other body parts of giant squids...

Via American Museum of Natural History; special thanks to Eric N. for spotting this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/7/2013)

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