For the first time, researchers have photographed a living giant squid in the wild.
The legendary species routinely rears out of the depths in movies and literature, but until now, the only real giant squids that people have seen have been dead ones. Considerable money and effort have disappeared into the deep sea on failed searches for the giants, the largest invertebrates on the planet.
Sperm whales feed on giant squid, and in 2002 Japanese researchers started setting out cameras where whales congregate near the Ogasawara Islands south of Japan. The scientists dangled the cameras above hooks baited with small squid and mashed shrimp.
On the morning of Sept. 30, 2004, the system triumphed, report Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum and Kyoichi Mori of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association, both based in Tokyo. One of their cameras recorded the pale form of a giant squid as it attacked the bait 900 meters down.
The animals are “much more active predators than previously suggested,” the researchers conclude in an upcoming Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Giant squid have eight arms plus two extralong tentacles. The photographed animal wrapped the ends of its paired tentacles around the bait, and one tentacle snagged on the hook. The camera caught images of the squid fighting to free itself.
After more than 4 hours, part of the tentacle tore off, and the squid vanished. When the tentacle section was hauled aboard, its suckers could still clutch the boat and even people’s fingers.
DNA from the salvaged tentacle closely matched that extracted from dead specimens, confirming that the camera actually had photographed a giant quid. On the basis of tentacle measurements and photo analysis, the researchers estimate that the squid was at least 8 meters long.