First Pictures of Live Giant Squid in its Natural Habitat: Water?

Posted by Chris Parker
Sep 28 2005

NewsScientist News Service: The first ever pictures of a live giant squid in its natural environment have been snapped in deep water off Japan. Working with a cheap camera and a fishing boat, the two Japanese researchers have succeeded where millions of dollars and international film crews have failed.

“This is very exciting. These pictures are a major leap forward for us,” says squid expert Mark Norman of Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.

Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum in Tokyo and Kyoichi Mori of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association in Tokyo collected more than 550 digital images taken over more than four hours. These show the squid repeatedly attempting to detach a bait dangling beneath the camera, which was at a depth of 900 metres.

During these attempts, the club of one of the squid’s long feeding tentacles became caught in the bait equipment. It eventually broke off, and the team retrieved and genetically sequenced the 5.5-metre-long severed section to confirm that the animal was indeed Architeuthis dux. They estimate the squid’s total length was at least eight metres.

The images are set to change ideas about the giant squid’s predatory techniques. Despite its ferocious reputation in myth, experts had thought that A. dux was a sluggish predator that dangled its two long feeding tentacles like fishing rods to snare passing prey.

“But the pictures show an animal that’s more like a python striking a rat,” points out Norman.

Coiled tentacles
The giant squid used its tentacles to grab at the bait, then coiled them into a ball, much in the way that pythons rapidly envelop their prey within coils of their body after striking, the two researchers report.

The pair chose their spot carefully. They knew that sperm whales – the main predator of giant squid – gather to feed in the region, adjacent to a steep, canyoned continental slope approximately 10-15 kilometres southeast of Chichijima Island. Remains of A. dux have previously been reported floating at the surface in this spot, and have been recovered from fishing boats operating in the area.

The researchers’ persistence over three years paid off spectacularly when they finally took their snapshots, says Norman. He predicts that the new images may now drive more targeted attempts to film the squid by submarines and film crews.

Juvenile specimens of A. dux have been collected from the wild by Steve O’Shea of the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, but despite repeated attempts, this is the first time a live adult has been observed. .

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B (DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3158)

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