Is this sea creature real or CGI?

It’s real. In fact, it’s a lovely example of the noble Grimpoteuthis — the crazy-deep-water-dwelling “Dumbo Octopus”, so named for its big floppy ears (or whatever the heck those things are). Collision Detection reader Paul Gemperle sent me a couple of links to some amazing photos of Grimpoteuthis, as well as a short French documentary of the thing in action.

The video is hallucinogenically strange in the way that only films of benthic-depth sea creatures can be: Gauzy see-through animals lazily turn themselves inside out, ultracreepy writhing masses of collective-life-form tentacles lunge for prey, and Dumbo octopuses impassively regard the camera lens with what appears to be an intelligence probably not much lower than a member of Congress. In one shot, a huge-ass lidded eye attached to some snouted celaphopod opened up to stare at me and I was like, man — this stuff looks like a Ridley Scott f/x masterpiece. Or a really awesome video game.

All of which made me think: Deep-sea life is so aggressively odd-looking that it’s indistiguishable from Hollywood CGI creations. Sure, that Dumbo octopus is real; but if it weren’t, how could you tell? Someone ought to harness this blurriness as a pedagogical technique. They could make a short documentary aimed at grade-school kids that mixes fake CGI sea animals with real ones, and challenges them to figure out which is which. It’d be a nice way to hammer home the central fun of marine biology, and of science in general: Why bother making things up when reality outweirds you every day?

(Thanks to Paul for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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