Why this cephalopod expert is impressed with Seattle Kraken branding, as NHL team debuts on ice

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This eastern Pacific red octopus is in the same family as squid, cuttlefish – and kraken. (UW Laboratory Comparative Systems Neuroscience Photo)

As the Seattle Kraken hockey franchise made its NHL debut Tuesday, cephalopods are on the minds of many people.

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Contains david turn, an octopus researcher and neuroscientist at the University of Washington who also plays hockey.

“Kraken really did a great job branding his team,” Giray told GeekWire on Monday.


A kraken is a giant sea monster that has its roots in Scandinavian folklore. NS Legends of the Demonic Kraken likely originated with sightings of giant squid, known to reach 43 feet in length.

David falls. (University of Washington photo)

And like the Kraken, they are elusive. was the first giant squid filmed for the first time in its deep sea habitat in 2013. was a sample sent on ice from Alaska to the University of Washington in 2002. And no one has been known to see one in Pacific Northwest waters, Gir said — at least to his knowledge.

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So to understand giant squid, or kraken, it’s best to look at their more accessible cousins.

Geyer studies creatures such as the giant Pacific octopus, which typically reaches 16 feet at maturity and is found throughout the waters of Puget Sound.

Given his love for hockey, Gir can understand the similarities with the Kraken and the game that few others can. The animal’s hands are important, he said. This is where most of the brain occurs along with small ganglia (collections of neurons) that are located behind each sucker in the hand.

“It turns out that the ganglia actually operate semi-autonomously, so they’re controlling the local movement of the hand and they’re also sensing stuff that’s around the hand,” Giray said. “They can smell, taste and touch.”

And it’s similar to operating a hockey team, said Gir, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Psychology.

“All of these ganglia need to work together to control the arm, the same way you can imagine a good hockey team would have to work together, where there are six independent people on the ice, all together. Trying to work on a target,” he said. “Similar to the octopus arm, they are going to coordinate their movements with each other. But all of them are also capable of making their own decisions.”

If the hockey player is like a ganglion, mini-brain, and the team is like an octopus arm – what about the coach?

“There is no direct player-to-coach communication during the game, it’s an indirect guide to low bandwidth for the team,” Gire said. “And it’s similar to how an octopus’s brain would interact with the arms.”

Girey explained that an octopus’s central brain has some connection to the arms, enabling only general guidance, such as which general direction to go. pattern of a coordinated cephalopod,” he said.

Seattle Kraken Sweater. (Seattle Kraken Image)

Gir appreciates that the Kraken has brought his favorite creatures a brief moment of fame. And he loves hockey.

As children, Gir and his brothers competed in a competition to name the new San Jose hockey team. He named his football team, the Sharks, winning the competition along with hundreds of other kids who chose the same name. “We have to go meet the guy who runs the team and meet some of the players. it was lots of fun. So it really got me into hockey,” said Gire. And he’s been playing ever since. He looks forward to participating in a shark-kraken game in the future.

Gear’s research is featured in Documentary film On Depth, WNYC’s science friday, and at TEDxSeattle. He shared some more cephalopod science and lore with GeekWire below.

GeekWire: How does an octopus hunt?

david turn: We’ve done a lot of work on how they catch prey in the dark, as many endemic species do most of their hunting at night. And so what we found was that it seemed likely that the suckers would launch an attack on the prey.

Octopuses can also coordinate their movement to approach, for example a fast-moving shrimp, in a way that doesn’t scare it. So they know it’s there, but they can’t see it, and yet they are able to move their arms efficiently to enclose it and eventually eat it.

One of the things we study is how arms can coordinate so well when they’re actually operating as such semi-autonomous little brains, which are all real direct. , are coordinating with each other without precise control. .

Gir collects octopus samples for research and then later releases them back to Puget Sound. (UW Photo)

GW: Why study octopus brains? You compare this to a contingency system, in which the properties of the whole derive from the parts.

turn: I think it’s very similar to the way our brains work… I think you have this emerging pattern where if you have a very low semi-intelligent mind [octopus ganglia] By interacting with each other, you can generate much more complex behavior from the whole system. I don’t think you’ll be able to put an electrode into an octopus and say that’s where it’s making its decision. And the disadvantage for us is that when we study vertebrates, like humans, it’s that this kind of interesting chaos is happening inside the skull, where it’s really hard to see. But with the octopus, with two-thirds of its neurons in its arms, an interesting chaos of interactions between neural networks is happening where you can see it. [measure it with electrodes]. And so, they are a really good animal to study in that sense.

What do you think it’s like to be an octopus?

turn: This is one of those questions we love to ask because it really gets you thinking about what it would be like not to be able to control your body directly. When I was talking about the distributed brain of octopuses, a colleague in the department that studies human vision said that if you wanted to think of what an octopus would be like, think about people who have split brains. Is. They [physicians] section corpus callosum [which connects the two brain hemispheres], usually due to intractable epilepsy. And when they do so both sides of the brain actually function independently. So you have almost what philosophers and philosophers of science might call a real divided consciousness.

So octopuses have split consciousness?

turn: There are cognitive studies on people with this condition where it appears that there is a personality and attitude on one side of the brain and the other on the other. They are processing different types of information. Enlarge a human split brain a thousand times, and you’re probably getting a little closer to what their world is like.

Are cephalopods becoming more common around the world due to climate change and ecosystem changes, as a study Suggests?

turn: I don’t think there’s any real surefire way for us to know. But what cephalopods have in common is that they have a short generation time and produce thousands of offspring. If you want to create an animal that can quickly adapt to a new environment, cephalopods are a good species for that. There is going to be genetic variability in all of these offspring, and so you can have some offspring that may have some sort of polymorphism [genetic change] Let them survive in a slightly changed environment. And so the population may just shift towards those people. They are able to adapt quickly to the environment and so that is probably what enables them to thrive as things change.

Other researchers have suggested that the jumbo Humboldt squid – also known as the red devil – is becoming more common in Pacific Northwest waters. Have you observed it?

turn: Unfortunately, as global warming continues to increase, the range within which Humboldts can operate begins to expand. I say unfortunately because these schools, when they get into an ecosystem, they will eat everything.

They move up and down the east coast of California to Mexico, but as the water temperature changes, you can imagine they’ll start expanding north, which isn’t so great. I haven’t heard of anything in the areas we study, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their range is starting to expand.

Tell us about Jumbo Squid.

turn: They have this really intense color display that they shine on each other. They are always doing this in these huge schools. I’m not sure if anyone really understands what they are supposed to do. I think it’s a form of communication. The colors are just dramatic, it looks like they are fluorescent, it can broaden the range of colors.

What makes them so awesome as deep-dwellers is that they work in these big schools. You have thousands of individuals and it’s a huge group that travel together, and then during the day they go deep into the ocean. And then at night they come to the surface, kind of like a horror movie. They are about the size of a human individually. Imagine a thousand vengeful creatures the size of a person cruising around a boat and in the water.

Will these squids attack divers?

turn: Not that I’ve heard… it’s not really in diving lore.

How are octopuses different from squids?

turn: They started with a single toolbox, probably in some ancestral Nautilus type thing. But then as they diversified and entered these ecological regions, they began to acquire their own personalities and traits that…

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