Flashback Friday: Legendary giant squid recorded in rare encounter
In this file photo, giant squid attacking a bait squid is being pulled up by his research team off the Ogasawara Islands, south of Tokyo, on Dec. 4, 2006. (AP / Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum of Japan)
Published Friday, December 4, 2015 5:55AM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 4, 2015 9:47AM EST
It used to be a creature of legend: the mythological kraken, a many-tentacled beast that would drag fishermen into the depths, tear apart fishing ships, and create massive whirlpools on the ocean’s surface. That iconic beast has also popped up in fiction such as Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”
But it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the kraken myth was revealed to be one based on a real creature, the elusive giant squid, which scientists still know almost nothing about. Giant squid bodies wash up on the shores of Scandinavian countries from time to time, and sperm whales bear the scars of fighting with the squid, but researchers still have precious little information about the creature and its habits. They’ve been unable to capture one alive, and they’ve also struggled to photograph living specimens of the animal.
But on this day in 2006, a team of Japanese scientists did more than photograph the beast: they managed to capture it on video.
The researchers captured the giant squid off the coast of the Ogasawara Islands, south of Tokyo, on Dec. 4, 2006. Their bait initially attracted a smaller Humboldt squid, which in turn lured the larger giant squid, at a depth of about 650 metres below the surface. Once the researchers had the giant squid on their line, they fought to reel it in and recorded the whole encounter on video.
The video shows a large, dark pink squid with its tentacles wrapped around the Humboldt squid, trying to tear its food off the fishing line and escape back into the depths. The giant squid ultimately lost the struggle, and researchers pulled it onto their vessel and placed it in a holding tank, where it soon died.
The footage is considered one of the first recordings ever made of the giant squid. Another recording had been made one month earlier, using a camera attached to a Humboldt squid to record a giant squid swimming in the deep ocean.
The Japanese specimen was considered a small adult, and measured about seven metres long, from the tip of its tentacles to the top of its torpedo-shaped body.
Adult giant squid are thought to typically range between 10-12 metres at length, with the body alone measuring about two metres long. The rest of that length is made up of the creature’s tentacles, which have many suckers lined with tiny teeth. The creature also has a beak for a mouth, which it uses to devour its prey of smaller squid and deep-sea fish.
Giant squid also have huge eyes that can be the size of soccer balls, measuring up to 25 centimetres across.
Giant squid are thought to be solitary hunters that live in the deepest parts of all the world’s oceans, but their activities are largely a mystery. Scientists have captured more footage of the animal in the nine years since that first video, but they still have yet to capture a live one for study.
Those that are caught alive soon die, and are preserved as quickly as possible for examination.
And while the giant squid may sound big, it’s not the largest tentacled monster in the ocean. The colossal squid is estimated to grow to a maximum of 14 metres long, with a larger body and shorter tentacles than the giant squid.
Like with the giant squid, most information about the colossal squid comes from rare sightings, washed-up bodies and leftover squid beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales.