Giant Squid Finally Captured On Film

On 27 September 2005, the greatest zoological discovery of the century was announced. For the first time ever, a live giant squid was caught on film. The Animal The giant squid (Architeuthis) has been known to humans since ancient times. Giant squid were regular features in many Norwegian tales (where, many believe, it inspired the creature known as the Kraken). The first substantiated report of a real giant squid, was in 1873. The animal was reported to have been attacking a minister and a young boy, near Bell Island, Newfoundland. Five years later, scientists received their first giant squid specimen, when a carcass washed ashore in Glover’s Harbor, Newfoundland. What’s in a Name? The scientific name for the genus containing the giant squid is: Architeuthis, which translates to: “The ruling squid.” How big? The largest giant squid on record was a female that washed ashore on a New Zealand beach in 1887. From end to end, the creature measured 16.8 meters (55 ft) long. Because of the “springiness” of their tentacles, though, this has been viewed as an exaggerated length. If the animal were still alive, it resting length would have been closer to 9.8 meters (32 ft). Elusive Monster Despite knowledge of the existence of this beast for the past 127 years, scientists have never been able to actually capture the creature alive; either in a net, or on film. This was due to a variety of different factors that were not conducive to human capture. Some of these factors included: Depth – Most large squid prefer depths of several hundred, to one thousand meters. This makes it very hard to place fishing nets and bait. Time – Suggested by their gargantuan eyes, and verified by observations of other species, large squid prefer to hunt in areas of the water column, which remain very dark. They usually only come closer to the surface at night. These scenarios present a problem for anyone wanting to film these animals. Pressure – Water pressure increases by one atmosphere for every 9.8 meters (32ft) in depth. Giant squid appear to favor depths between 600-900 meters (1,968 – 2,952 ft). At 900 meters, water pressure is 92 times greater than at the surface. If a large squid were caught at that depth, and brought up, the rapid change in pressure could possibly kill the large animal long before it ever reached the boat. The only choice would be to bring the creature up slowly; a process that would leave plenty of time for it to escape. Seeking Help One telltale way to find giant squid, is to follow one of their primary predators: the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). These animals are known hunters of giant squid. Many individuals are known to carry large sucker and claw marks believed to be souvenirs from their epic underwater battles. By figuring out where sperm whales like to hunt, one should be able to get a good idea of where the squid live. By following this process, scientists have been able to get a fairly good estimate of the general living depths for giant squid. Minor Success In February of 2001, Dr. Steve O’Shea, along with the Discovery Channel, caught the first ever living giant squid. In fact, he caught of few of them. The only catch was that they were only larvae. The babies had to be maintained in special pressurized tanks, in order to keep them alive. Unfortunately for Dr. O’Shea, the larvae did not survive the trip back to the mainland. Patience is Key Japanese researchers: Tsunemi Kubodera, and Kyoichi Mori, set out to capture film of an adult giant squid, in the wild. From 2002 to 2004, Kubodera, Mori and their crew, set up remote camera systems in Japanese waters, which were known to harbor sperm whales and giant squid. They hooked depth loggers to the cameras, along with bait rigs dangling below them. For the bait, the researchers used a Japanese common squid on one end, and a mesh bag filled with shrimp, to use as an odor allure on the other end. Finally, on 30 September 2004, Kubodera, Mori and their crew struck gold. A large, 8 meter (26ft) adult squid was caught attacking a piece of bait the researchers had dangling 900 meters below the surface. The Battle At 9:15 AM, the squid attacked the bait. The camera captured the attack on film. During the initial attack, a portion of the squid’s tentacle became snagged on the bait rig. At 1:28 PM, the squid finally broke free from its snare. It had struggled on the line for a mind blowing 4 hours! Unexpected Souvenir The struggle to break free was so violent, that the animal actually ripped off the tentacle that was stuck to the bait rig. This tentacle remained attached to the rig, as the researchers brought it up. The leftover squid remnant measured 5.5 meters (18 feet) long! The tentacle was observed to still be sucking and attaching itself to anything it could get a hold of. Truth is Stranger than Fiction Prior to these observations, scientists had assumed that giant squid were sluggish creatures that remained neutrally buoyant in the water column; dangling their long tentacles in order to lure fish in. Now we know that these animals are much more active, and aggressive than we had once thought. Not Over with Yet With the announcement of this discovery, a renewed interest in the giant squid has begun. Many documentary film companies are now attempting to capture even better footage of these animals in their natural habitat. There’s Always a Bigger…Mollusc? With all of this renewed hubbub over the giant squid, it should be pointed out that it is not completely unique among squid. As with many things named “giant” in zoology, there always seems to be something else that comes along to dwarf the previous “biggest.” Enter the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). Though this animal has been known to science since 1925, it never received the acclaim it’s smaller (but longer) relative, Architeuthis, got. While the colossal squid doesn’t appear to grow as long as the giant squid (their tentacles are shorter), they are many times larger than them. Furthermore, while giant squid are often viewed as the antagonists in battle scenes with sperm whales, there is good reason to suggest that the colossal squid might be responsible for so many battle scarred whales. As previously mentioned, many large sperm whales are found with deep claw marks on their heads. Giant squid tentacles do not have claws on them. They only contain suckers. Colossal squid tentacles, on the other hand, are laced with numerous hooks. Who knows what else awaits discovery down in the murky depths of the ocean.

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