Humankind has been looking for the giant squid (Architeuthis) since we first started taking pictures underwater. But the elusive deep-sea predator could never be caught on film. Oceanographer and inventor Edith Widder shares the key insight — and the teamwork — that helped to capture the squid on film for the first time.
Edith Widder combines her expertise in research and technological innovation with a commitment to stopping and reversing the degradation of our marine environment.
What has eight arms with hundreds of suckers, eyes the size of grapefruit and a razor-sharp beak? A giant squid! A team of scientists and the Discovery Channel shot footage of this notoriously elusive creature in action. Open the Discovery News gallery…
Giant Squid – From Sea Monster to Conservation Icon
by Brian Switek
When I was five years old, shortly after my dinomania hit a fever pitch, my parents took me to New York City’s grand American Museum of Natural History. The towering, tail-dragging Tyrannosaurus and low-slung, wrong-headed “Brontosaurus” were the species I most wanted to see on my fossil safari, but I didn’t only have eyes for the Mesozoic. Anything suitably large and monstrous shocked my imagination, including the dim diorama of a sperm whale tussling with a giant squid.
The life-scale model was artificial – I can’t even imagine how anyone would go about mounting an authentic giant squid – but the fantastic scene drew me in because there was the distinct possibility that such an epic battle was actually taking place at that very moment. The dinosaurs in the upper halls were all gone. They only lived where speculation and science melded together. But the giant squid and sperm whale didn’t need me to try to revive them. That dark, static vision was a three-dimensional snapshot of a living truth.
As a child, I was convinced that the squid had as much a chance of winning the battle as the whale. The toothed cetacean had brute strength, certainly, but I believed that the slippery squid was crafty enough to ensnare and drown its attacker. The giant squid was a real sea monster, after all, and only a foolish predator would trifle with a 50 foot cephalopod. Only later did I face the ugly fact that the squid was not an equal in combat, but prey. Sperm whale stomach contents leave no doubt that giant squid are little more than tasty morsels for the marine mammals. All that’s usually left of the titanic cephalopods are their tough, keratinized beaks…
Giant squid filmed in Pacific depths, Japan scientists report
by Shingo Ito
Scientists and broadcasters said Monday they have captured footage of an elusive giant squid roaming the depths of the Pacific Ocean, showing it in its natural habitat for the first time ever.
Japan’s National Science Museum succeeded in filming the deep-sea creature at a depth of more than half a kilometre (a third of a mile) after teaming up with Japanese public broadcaster NHK and the US Discovery Channel.
The massive invertebrate is the stuff of legend, with sightings of a huge ocean-dwelling beast reported by sailors for centuries. The creature is thought to be the genesis of the Nordic legend of Kraken, a sea monster believed to have attacked ships in waters off Scandinavia over the last millennium.
Modern-day scientists on their own Moby Dick-style search used a submersible to descend to the dark and cold depths of the northern Pacific Ocean, where at around 630 m (2,066 ft) they managed to film a three-metre specimen. After around 100 missions, during which they spent 400 hours in the cramped submarine, the three-man crew tracked the creature from a spot some 15 km (9 mi) east of Chichi island in the north Pacific.
Museum researcher Tsunemi Kubodera said they followed the enormous mollusc to a depth of 900 m as it swam into the ocean abyss…
The giant squid may be the biggest, but it’s not the only squid in the sea. Scientists estimate there are about 500 species of squid. Some are surprisingly tiny—only about 2.5 cm (1 in) in length. Others are impressively large. There are three species of giant squid (Architeuthis), the largest of which may grow up to 16 m (50 ft) long. And there are other large squid as well—including one known as the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). Despite these vast differences in size, all squids share certain features: long, cylindrical bodies, usually with eight arms and two long feeding tentacles; and two fins that help them balance and maneuver as they swim.
The largest giant squid ever recorded was nearly 16 meters (50 feet) long and may have weighed nearly a ton. You’d think such a huge animal would be hard to miss. But the ocean is vast…and giant squid live deep down. So they remain elusive and are rarely seen. In fact, until a video was made in 2006, no scientist had ever filmed a giant squid. A female had just attacked bait suspended beneath a Japanese research vessel off the Ogasawara Islands. As the camera whirred, the research team pulled the 7-meter (24-foot) squid to the surface alive. The milestone event was recorded on videotape, enabling people around the world to finally see a living, breathing giant squid in action.
(via: Smithsonian Ocean Portal)
(photo: Dec. 4, 2006, Japanese scientists videotaped this female giant squid alive. credit: Tsunemi Kubodera, National Mus.of Nature and Sci. of Japan/AP)
This is the skin of a sperm whale, speckled with sucker marks from a giant predator. Sperm whales with these marks provided early evidence that there was a giant squid that lived in the deep - known then as the kraken.
Giant squid have the largest eyes on Earth, about the size of a basketball—but why do they need such big peepers? So they can see a sperm whale in time to escape its gaping jaws, researchers report online today in Current Biology. Seeing under water is tricky because light fades out at deeper depths and water makes distant objects disappear even before they are too small to see. But eyes are expensive to build and maintain, so such huge ones must serve a purpose. In the new study, researchers developed a computer model to look at what different-sized eyes could see at different water depths.
Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History zoologist and giant squid expert, Dr. Clyde Roper, weighs in to debunk some common myths about the giant squid’s most famous predator, the sperm whale:
“Giant squid do not eat sperm whales. They eat small fishes, like orange roughy and hokie, and small squids. Quite the opposite…sperm whales eat giant squid, and many other species of midwater and deep sea squids, some quite small. The sucker rings of the largest giant squid are a maximum of 2” in diameter. Any scars on a whale larger than that are either old scars that have enlarged somewhat as the whale has grown.
The largest giant squid specimens ever recorded were 60 ft total length, back in the 19th Century. I have examined over 100 specimens in museums and on beaches all over the world, and the largest I have ever seen was in the 40-45 foot range. Please note that the two long feeding tentacles make up about 2/3 the total length of a giant squid.”
Smithsonian have just published a children’s book on the giant squid: “Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster”, by Mary M. Cerullo and Clyde F. E. Roper, 2012. The book’s target audience is 10-14 years, but the whole age spectrum can learn something from it.
The giant squid remains largely a mystery to scientists despite being the biggest invertebrate on Earth. The largest of these elusive giants ever found measured 59 feet (18 m) in length and weighed nearly a ton (900 kg).
However, their inhospitable deep-sea habitat has made them uniquely difficult to study, and almost everything scientists know about them is from carcasses that have washed up on beaches or been hauled in by fishermen. Lately, however, the fortunes of scientists studying these elusive creatures have begun to turn. In 2004 researchers in Japan took the first images ever of a live giant squid. And in late 2006, scientists with Japan’s National Science Museum caught and brought to the surface a live 24-ft (7-m) female giant squid.
Giant squid, along with their cousin, the colossal squid, have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom, measuring some 10 in (25 cm) in diameter. These massive organs allow them to detect objects in the lightless depths where most other animals would see nothing…