Veronika Meduna’s #squidwatch

Veronika Meduna, presenter of Radio New Zealand’s Our Changing World, presented Te Papa’s #squidwatch event. In this blog, she reflects on the experience of presenting such a ‘colossal’ event and the role of museums in effective science communication.

Squid scientists at the colossal squid tank. Photographer: Veronika Meduna

Squid scientists at the colossal squid tank. © Veronika Meduna

It’s been two months since Te Papa’s #squidwatch, a live-streamed event during which scientists had a rare opportunity to examine a colossal squid, but comments and queries are still popping up regularly in my inbox and Twitter feed. Most recently, Te Papa’s Science Live series, and the colossal squid session in particular, came up in a discussion about the role of museums in effective science communication.

Much of the debate about how best to communicate science focuses on links between research organisations and the media. Museums are often overlooked. Yet, museum events attract audiences most research organisations (and many media outlets) can only dream of. Almost half a million people watched the colossal squid examination, either right then and there live as it was happening, or within a week of the event. Since then, the number has continued to climb to just under 700,000 viewers.

Dr Kat Bolstad and Tyler Northern examining the colossal squid beak. Photographer: Veronika Meduna

Dr Kat Bolstad and Tyler Northern examining the colossal squid beak. © Veronika Meduna

A web-streamed event such as Science Live hits a number of science communication buttons all at once. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at science, it enables a high level of engagement with viewers, and it brings out the best of the scientists. In the case of the colossal squid, the excitement of the team of squid experts from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) was very palpable.

From my experience of producing Radio New Zealand science programme Our Changing World, I’ve learned that the best stories are those from the field. Whenever I get a chance to join scientists during a fieldtrip, I usually jump at it – and to be able to join the AUT team as they worked on the colossal squid, only the second specimen ever that has been brought up to the surface in a condition good enough for scientific examination, was in many ways like an invitation to the ultimate fieldtrip.

I knew that the team, led by Dr Kat Bolstad, are experts when it comes to the biology of squid and their cephalopod cousins, but on the day, each of them delivered much more than knowledge. They shared their excitement, passion, curiosity and sheer joy of discovery.

Aaron Boyd-Evans performing the cockatoo dance to demonstrate how some squid hold their arms when they swim towards prey. Photographer: Veronika Meduna

Aaron Boyd-Evans performing the cockatoo dance to demonstrate how some squid hold their arms when they swim towards prey. © Veronika Meduna

Some of my lasting memories include Aaron Boyd-Evans performing the cockatoo dance to explain, or rather demonstrate, how some squid hold their arms when they swim towards prey. Heather Braid was fantastic when she recollected the gross factor of examining squid stomach contents. Tyler Northern was inspiring when he described how he got into ‘squidology’ and Jesse Taylor’s heartfelt ‘yes please!’ when I released him from the interview back to the examination tank proved his passion for his science. And as for Kat Bolstad? I don’t know how she did it, but she really ran a marathon in the name of excellent science communication on that day. And the team hasn’t stopped – you can follow their squid fun @ALCESOnline.

One of the most enjoyable aspects for me was that an event like this is a two-way conversation. The number of questions coming in from children showed that their engagement was real and that their curiosity about these strange denizens of the deep ocean had been sparked. Museums are conveyors of culture, and they do a great job in inviting everybody on a cultural quest for scientific wonder, discovery and invention.

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