Forget Nessie and Big Foot. Researchers have caught a real monster on film. For the first time, scientists have obtained video footage of the giant squid, and the recording answers some of the many mysteries about the world's largest invertebrate.
The giant squid is legendary, but despite its frequent appearance in Hollywood films as a voracious sea monster, scientists have never observed it in the wild. What little we know of Architeuthis, as researchers have named it, comes from dead specimens found washed up on beaches or partly digested in the stomach of its main predator, the sperm whale. The largest giant squid ever found was 18 meters long from its tail to the tips of its tentacles, with eyes the size of basketballs. But basic questions about the creature's behavior--such as whether it's zippy like smaller squid or sluggish like most other massive animals--have been confined to speculation.
That is, until now. Unlike documentary filmmakers who have spent millions of dollars seeking the squid, a team led by Tsunemi Kubodera, a zoologist at the National Science Museum in Tokyo, did it on the cheap, suspending from a boat a relatively inexpensive apparatus consisting of a camera, a depth meter, a light, and a rugged steel fishing lure baited with a common squid and strong-smelling shrimp pulp. They chose a spot in deep water off the coast of Japan and waited patiently.
On the morning of 30 September 2004, enormous tentacles appeared out of the gloom 900 meters below the surface. One question about Architeuthis was answered immediately: The beast is indeed a fast and agile predator. Some scientists had proposed that the giant squid dangles its two longer feeding tentacles below it passively like a jellyfish, but this one approached rapidly in a horizontal position, grabbing the lure with its feeding tentacles and wrapping them into a ball to bring it to its beaked mouth.
And that's when the long fight began. The hooked squid tried to escape by jetting around, dragging the apparatus up 300 meters and then back down again, finally breaking off its tentacle after 4 hours. Analyzing the images and sequencing DNA from the tentacle confirmed that it was an 8-meter Architeuthis.
"We are only left with a glimpse of the monster, and more questions than before," such as which aspects of the apparatus actually attracted the squid, says William Gilly, a marine biologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Still, he says, the video provides "far more than what was known previously, which was zero."