Squid hunts, pet chimps, and E.B. White's dead pig: Five fascinating stories about the relationship between humans and animals.

Squid hunts, pet chimps, and E.B. White's dead pig: Five fascinating stories about the relationship between humans and animals.

Squid hunts, pet chimps, and E.B. White's dead pig: Five fascinating stories about the relationship between humans and animals.

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Aug. 27 2011 7:46 AM

The Longform.org Guide to Man and Beast

Squid hunts, pet chimps, and E.B. White's dead pig—five fascinating stories about human-animal relations.


Every weekend, Longform.org shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For a daily selection of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform.org or follow @longformorg on Twitter.

Steve O'Shea, a curator at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, examines a giant squid in 1996. Click image to expand.
Steve O'Shea examining a giant squid

I'm planning to get a dog soon. Aside from a long-deceased goldfish named Bingo, the pooch will be my first pet. As one does, I've been spending an inordinate amount of time on local shelter websites and paying extra close attention to dog-owner dynamics in the park. But there's only so much you can learn that way, and I still don't really understand how this relationship works—the fish and I were never particularly close. So, to get a better handle on human-animal relations, I went digging through our archives at Longform. Here's what I found:

The Squid Hunter David Grann • The New Yorker • May 2004

An obsessive marine biologist gambles his savings, family, and sanity on a quest to be the first to capture a live giant squid:

"The giant squid has consumed the imaginations of many oceanographers. How could something so big and powerful remain unseen for so long—or be less understood than dinosaurs, which died out millions of years ago? The search for a living specimen has inspired a fevered competition. For decades, teams of scientists have prowled the high seas in the hope of glimpsing one. These 'squid squads' have in recent years invested millions of dollars and deployed scores of submarines and underwater cameras, in a struggle to be first.

"Steve O'Shea, a marine biologist from New Zealand, is one of the hunters—but his approach is radically different. He is not trying to find a mature giant squid; rather, he is scouring the ocean for a baby, called a paralarva, which he can grow in captivity. A paralarva is often the size of a cricket."

Death of a Pig E.B. White • Atlantic • January 1948


On the grief that comes with losing livestock:

"I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting. Even now, so close to the event, I cannot recall the hours sharply and am not ready to say whether death came on the third night or the fourth night. This uncertainty afflicts me with a sense of personal deterioration; if I were in decent health I would know how many nights I had sat up with a pig."

The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup Susan Orlean • Outside • December 1996

A profile of a 25-year-old Spanish sensation:

"On the other hand, there is just one Cristina, and everyone in Spain knows her and is following her rise. She has gotten attention far outside of Spain and on television and in newspapers and even in fashion magazines; other matadors, even very good ones, fuse in the collective mind as man-against-bull, but every time Cristina kills a bull she forms part of a singular and unforgettable tableau--that of an attractive, self-possessed young woman elegantly slaying a large animal in a somber and ancient masculine ritual--and regardless of gender she is a really good matador, and she is being painstakingly managed and promoted, so there is no saying where her celebrity will stop. This is only her first season as a full matador, but it has been a big event. Lately El Cordobes or his publicist or his accountant has been igniting and fanning the rumor that he and Cristina Sanchez are madly in love, with the hope that her fame will rub off on him. She will probably be more and more acclaimed in the four or so years she plans to fight, and she will probably be credited with many more putative love affairs before her career is through."


Travis the Menace Dan P. Lee • New York • January 2011

The inevitably tragic story of Travis the chimp and the family of tow-truck operators who raised him like a human child:

"Travis grew quickly. Jerry played catch with him and taught him to ride a tricycle (which was awkward at first, what with his long arms), then a bike, then a ride-on lawn mower. Sandy put on a blue bikini and big gold-hoop earrings and took him to the beach, carrying him into the water with her.

"Sandy and Jerry invited Travis to join them at the table for meals. He ate oatmeal with a spoon every morning. At their favorite Italian restaurant, Pellicci's, she read him the menu, offering him choices. His favorite food was filet mignon. He also enjoyed lobster tail. He preferred Lindt's chocolates. He liked Nerds candy and taffy, and he loved ice cream, hooting and pulling at Sandy when the ice-cream man came down the street. When he was thirsty, he swung his body up onto the counter and took out a glass, opened the refrigerator, and poured himself juice or soda.

"Travis had a distinct sense of humor. He'd become particularly impish when Sandy was on the phone talking. He'd change the channels of the remote furiously. He'd blast the volume on the TV. 'Cut it out, you little son of a bitch!' Sandy would yell, and then laugh. 'I'm gonna kill you, you little bastard!' "

Consider the Lobster David Foster Wallace • Gourmet • August 2004

A trip to a lobster festival in Maine leads to an examination of the culinary and ethical dimensions of cooking a live, possibly sentient, creature:

"A detail so obvious that most recipes don't even bother to mention it is that each lobster is supposed to be alive when you put it in the kettle. This is part of lobster's modern appeal: It's the freshest food there is. There's no decomposition between harvesting and eating. And not only do lobsters require no cleaning or dressing or plucking (though the mechanics of actually eating them are a different matter), but they're relatively easy for vendors to keep alive. They come up alive in the traps, are placed in containers of seawater, and can, so long as the water's aerated and the animals' claws are pegged or banded to keep them from tearing one another up under the stresses of captivity, survive right up until they're boiled. Most of us have been in supermarkets or restaurants that feature tanks of live lobster, from which you can pick out your supper while it watches you point. And part of the overall spectacle of the Maine Lobster Festival is that you can see actual lobstermen's vessels docking at the wharves along the northeast grounds and unloading freshly caught product, which is transferred by hand or cart 100 yards to the great clear tanks stacked up around the Festival's cooker—which is, as mentioned, billed as the World's Largest Lobster Cooker and can process over 100 lobsters at a time for the Main Eating Tent.

"So then here is a question that's all but unavoidable at the World's Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does 'all right' even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?"

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @ longformorg. For more great science and nature writing, check out Longform.org's complete archive.