Documenting Cephalopods Part 1 It Started With A Spreadsheet

Well, it started with a list actually, well before that it started with months of familiarisation with the collections at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the Collections Manager (Life Collections) at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and I manage the zoological collections (excepting the huge entomology sensu latu collections) and I’ve been in post for nearly two years now. My role at the museum as I see it is to facilitate access and use of the amazing collections at the museum but in order to do this, we need to get a handle on what material is in these collections.

This multi-part series will take you through the process from start to nearly finish, I suspect the pace of these blog posts will outstrip the pace of the work, in documenting the cephalopod collections at the museum. I have taught collections management in the past and (sadly) am very interested in how documentation works but in my work across the sector and wider, when discussing the problems with managing natural history collections, people not familiar with the work will ask “Why don’t you crowd source it” or “Just get volunteers to do it”. I’m afraid in many cases it isn’t that simple so these posts will take us through the whole process which is frustrating and laborious at times but ultimately satisfying when done right. It’ll be cathartic for me and scratch that teaching itch and who knows, it may be of some interest to others at the very least the nerdy museum documenters out there (shout outs to @RussellShepherd and @RegistrarTrek and the #MuseumDocumentation no offense intended).

Series introduced, let’s get on to documenting cephalopods. Continue reading

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Elsewhere in the blogosphere update August

Can’t believe it’s been seven months since the last update! Goodbye 2017 you were pretty much as sucky as 2016 was but in a different way. It’s been a busy couple of months and unfortunately my writing juices have been sucked away by other endeavours, including an exciting book chapter which I’ve been very keen on writing for a while.

Here’s some of the more recent natural history and museum stuff I’ve been working on and contributed to from around the web, corralled into one place.  Continue reading

When is a giant octopus not a giant octopus?

A new story doing the rounds earlier this week reported on a ‘foolhardy’ dolphin that suffocated whilst trying to eat a giant octopus. You can read the story here at New Scientist. The story is based on a short note paper published in Marine Mammal Science and its one of those nice little papers that describes a rare behaviour to add to the anecdotal record of behaviour between cetaceans and cephalopods. The Marine Mammal Science paper goes into grim detail about how an octopuses arms and suckers can remain active up to an hour after the ‘head has died’ and in this instance the suckers were still firmly to the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin’s larynx, oesophagus and tongue during the autopsy.  The story was circulated fairly widely in the ‘science tabloid’ outlets and news websites however all is not as it seems.

Headline from the New Scientist reporting

Many stories lead with the headline about a giant octopus and some sort of judgement of the dolphin involved- greedy, foolhardy- but the reporting of this story is a nice example of when engineering a clickable headline and story is actually a bit misleading. At its worst we called say this was fake news. But this is exactly the kind of example I like to use when teaching students about the difficulties of striving for readability and accuracy as well as the wonderful complication of language especially when it comes to science. So when is a giant octopus not a giant octopus? Read on to find out. Continue reading

Elsewhere in the blogosphere update January

So here we are, two months since the last entry cobbled together with clips from around the web with ANOTHER ONE. I guess I’m sticking to blogosphere too. As with the last update, I’ve been contributing a lot elsewhere, some of which you may have missed.I struggle with the fine balance between trying to share ideas, what I’ve written and what others have written, enough so that people see it but not too much to end up spamming content he says whilst spamming content.

December and January have been fairly busy but here’s what I managed to squeeze out of the old brain tubes. Continue reading

Elsewhere in the blogosphere update November

Do people still use the word blogosphere? It’s been rather quiet here at Fistful of Cinctans and that’s because I’ve been writing a lot elsewhere, so like those cheap flashback sitcom episodes that are mostly made up of footage from older episodes, here’s some pointers to other stuff I’ve been writing instead. Continue reading

Google Cultural Institute and The Natural History Museum

Last week, the Natural History Museum London was the latest institute to engage with the mega brand x mega brand love in that is Google Cultural Institute partnerships. Presumably, they’ve partnered with most of the major art museums so the attention has finally turned to natural history* (at the time of writing, Google Cultural Institute still haven’t announced the project on Google+, evidence perhaps that even Google doesn’t use Google+). Although these projects, where the Google Cultural Institute partners with a museum to present their collections through the Google Arts and Culture platform, aren’t exactly new, the addition of one of the UK’s big natural history museums is a chance to examine whether these are any good yet.

The tl:dr version of this blog post is no. No they aren’t. Continue reading

Which is larger, giant squid or the Moon?

Ha ha tricksy title! I mean giant squid as in multiple giant squid, Architeuthis dux not a single giant squid, which would be a very silly question indeed. I’ll explain how I got to this question first as it probably isn’t one that many people have contemplated.

Cartoon by Mark Carnall of a moon made of cephalopods

Calamari Moon by Mark Carnall (Own work) CC BY 2.0 but let me know if you do!

I’ve been reading the excellent book- The Search for the Giant Squid by Richard Ellis which gives a comprehensive account of the biology and mythology surrounding giant squid, Architeuthis dux and related species up to 1998. The book covers the earliest accounts of encounters of giant squid; an examination of tall tales about large cephalopod encounters; giant squid in literature and film; and a really nice history of giant squid models in museums. Despite being one of the largest living invertebrates, very little is still known about giant squid including how their arch-enemies, the not-so-small-themselves cetaceans, sperm whales, catch them.

In the dark depths of the ocean how do essentially blind, breath-holding, large sperm whales catch highly manoeuvrable, fast, super-sensed giant squid? How do they catch them with their weird toothed mandible especially considering that giant squid retrieved from sperm whale stomachs don’t have any bite marks? And what does any of this have to do with the Moon? Continue reading