September 29, 2005 With eyes as large as Frisbees and a tangled mess of sucker pad-lined tentacles, the long-mysterious giant squid has finally been observed and photographed in the wild. A specimen about 26 feet long was observed by a Japanese team of scientists at a depth of 2,953 feet (900 meters) in the North Pacific ocean, 620 miles south of Japan.
Scientists have been trying to spy on the giant squid, or Architeuthis, for years, but zoologist Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum and Kyoichi Mori of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association, both based in Tokyo, finally succeeded last year on September 30 at 9:15 a.m. in the Ogasawara Islands. Their findings were reported yesterday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B (B standing for biological sciences), the world's oldest scientific organization, based in London.
"This gives us a much better handle on where these animals occur, the depths where they live, how they move and attack something," said Dr. Eric Hochberg, curator and head of the invertebrate zoology department at the Museum of Natural History in Santa Barbara, California. "Their observations help us flesh this animal out."
According to the scientists' report, "First-ever observations of a live giant squid in the wild," the Architeuthis appears to be a much more active predator than previously suspected, using its elongate feeding tentacles to strike and tangle prey."
The report further states that the animal's tentacles can apparently coil into an irregular ball in a manner similar to a python enveloping its prey within coils of its body just after striking.
The squid went after the bait the scientists had attached on the end of a camera and got stuck, leaving behind a six-foot-long tentacle, after a struggle of more than four hours, Dr. Mori told the Associated Press (AP). The tentacle will not grow back, but the squid's life is not in danger.
Giant squid have eight short arms and two long tentacles, and can grow as long as 60 feet. Although only an estimated 26 feet long, researchers confirmed it was a giant squid after comparing its DNA with squid previously washed ashore.
"Our images suggest that giant squids are much more active predators than previously suggested," the researchers wrote. "The long tentacles are clearly not weak fishing lines dangled below the body."
Reports in recent years indicated that giant squid are present in the Ogasawara Islands' deep water in the North Pacific, and that between September and December sperm whales gather to feed, often targeting the giant squid as one of their species du jour. The researchers used this knowledge to decide where to bait and watch for action.
The giant squid has long been enveloped in mystery, partially thanks to maritime legends and Jules Verne's classic novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. As more squid have been caught in fishing nets or found washed upon shores in the high latitudes of Canadian and Japanese waters, as well as off Australia's Tasmanian coast, scientific interest has swelled.
"There are still lots of intriguing questions to answer, but it's fascinating now that we can see this animal moving underwater," Dr. Hochberg said.
To see more on the giant squid, read "All Legs On Deck", from the April 2003 issue of Outside, about a crew of French sailors' encounter with a giant squid.