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SMITHSONIAN ZOOLOGIST EYES ENCOUNTER WITH A GIANT SQUID

Clyde Roper has yet to meet a live giant squid face to face. The wonder is, he wants to.

"There's no wishy-washy on this," the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution zoologist said. "You either want to go, or you don't."

Even Roper, who will be in Buffalo Sunday to discuss some of the mysteries of the deep, acknowledges that the choice is not easy.

Giant squid can weigh more than a ton, and reach twice the length of a city bus. Long sets of tentacles draw victims to its razor-sharp beak, and it remains so elusive that no one has ever seen one, let alone filmed one, in its native realm more than a thousand feet below the ocean's surface.

So Roper, who has been called the "Ahab of squid" for his career-long pursuit of knowledge and specimens, doesn't plan on simply looking for one. He plans on using whales, as bloodhounds.

The deal is this: Sometime in 1999, if the last of the funding can be lined up, researchers will use sound and sonar to follow deep-diving whales as they seek out squid in the pitch-black deep, where unimaginable battles between the leviathans are thought to routinely rage.

Once the melee is pinpointed, somebody -- Roper hopes it's him -- will slip beneath the waves in a deep-diving sub, and try for a ringside seat.

"There are two schools of thought on this," he admitted. "One is from those who say, 'I would give anything to be able to go down there, and then there are others who say, 'you couldn't get me down there for love, or money -- or both.' "

Recently returned from this year's Giant Squid/Deep Sea Expedition off the coast of New Zealand, Roper will visit the Buffalo Museum of Science at 3 p.m. Sunday to deliver the season's first Hayes Lecture.

His talk, free and open to the public, will center on "Light to Hide By: Bioluminescence in the Deep Sea."

It will explore the expanding body of knowledge about one facet of life in the oceans, the chemical production of light in organisms that share the deep sea with the squids, octupi and other cephalopods Roper has studied through the years. The theme fits the museum's current "In The Dark" feature exhibition, on the ways animals have adapted to the absence of light.

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