On Monday, the AP reported the discovery of a shrimp-like crustacean living in the frigid waters beneath a 600-foot-thick Antarctic ice sheet. The NASA team that accidentally caught it on video only wanted to look at the underside of the ice sheet — they hadn’t expected to find any life beneath it, where light doesn’t penetrate. The discovery opens up the possibility that life could survive in other dark, frozen places, like under the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Yeah, yeah. That’s great and everything. But can we eat it?
Apparently that’s the real question on everyone’s mind, since the AP headline reads “NASA finds shrimp dinner on ice beneath Antarctica,” and one of the scientists involved in the discovery is quoted, early in the story, as follows:
“We were operating on the presumption that nothing’s there,” said NASA ice scientist Robert Bindschadler, who will be presenting the initial findings and a video at an American Geophysical Union meeting Wednesday. “It was a shrimp you’d enjoy having on your plate.”
So apparently, the most interesting thing about this creature living where they thought no creature could live is that it’s kind of big, and therefore maybe okay with garlic.
This isn’t an isolated phenomenon. When scientists in New Zealand caught a colossal squid — a squid even larger than the giant squid, with the biggest eyeballs in the world and tentacles covered in sharp, rotating hooks — the Daily Mail dubbed it “Calamari for 500.”
Really? Really, its deep-frying potential is the most important thing about it?
I’m not trying to moralize here — a reporter’s job is to help readers connect with a story, and we can all relate to wanting to eat things. I, too, enjoy eating things, and occasionally I even eat shrimp or squid. And I’m sure that Bindschadler’s comment was made offhand, and that he’s truly in the Antarctic for the science, not the snacks.
But most of us, if we’re conscientious human beings, try not to be superficial. We try not to value other people only for their looks, or their wealth, or how tasty they are when sautéed. So maybe, as conscientious explorers of the mysteries of the deep, we should try giving our invertebrate friends the same respect.
Where to start? In the spirit of change, I propose we rename the sea cucumber to something that better reflects its many talents other than looking like food. I am open to suggestions.