Documenting and Capturing the Giant of the Deep

Dwelling hundreds of metres below the surface of the ocean, the Giant Squid has surfaced throughout history in legends and myths. Known as the ‘creature of the deep’, the Giant Squid has sparked our imaginations through its elusive nature. Depictions of the mythical creature of the Kraken in some literature such as Moby Dick and Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea mirror the appearance of a Giant Squid, adding to the animal’s overall mysterious, secret deep sea life.

Studying the Giant Squid's Predator

Because of their deep sea habitat, and elusive nature, it is extremely hard to document and study the Giant Squid. Scientists have discovered that the only know predators of the Giant Squids are sperm whales. Scientists have come to this conclusion base of studies of sperm whales, finding digested parts of Giant Squids in their stomachs. Also, some sperm whales have circular scars on their heads, where a Giant Squid has latched on with its suckers while being attacked and eaten. Sperm whales are experts in locating Giant Squid, so scientists have attempted to observe them in order to find and study the Giant Squid.

By following the sperm whales, Scientist have learnt that Giant Squid are usually found near continental and island slopes from the North Atlantic Ocean, especially Newfoundland, Norway, the northern British Isles, Spain as well as in the South Atlantic around southern Africa, the North Pacific around Japan, and the Pacific around New Zealand and Australia. Sightings are rare in tropical waters. It is estimated from watching sperm whale behaviour while diving, that the Giant Squid can span depths of around 300-1000 metres.

A Giant Squid

The Giant Squid Body

A Giant Squid has a torso, eight arms, and two longer tentacles, giving the creature its great length. The arms and tentacles are lined with hundreds of circular suction cups, ranging from 2 to centimetres in diameter, that each has a ring of sharp, finely serrated teeth. The Giant Squid uses these teeth and the suction cups to attach itself to its prey.

To move through the water, Giant Squid have small fins at the rear of its body for locomotion, and is propelled by jet force. It pulls the water into a cavity in its torso, and pushes it through the siphon in rhythmic pulses. To move quickly to escape, the Giant Squid can expand this cavity and quickly expel the water to increase their motion. Like other squid, the Giant Squid also has dark ink sacks that can be released to frighten and ward off predators.

Giant Squids also have a sophisticated nervous system and complex brain, and at over 30 centimetres in diameter, the have the largest eyes of any living creature. The Giant Squids eyes, while probably cannot distinguish colour, are able to detect bioluminescent light in the deep waters of the ocean.

The actual size of the Giant Squid has been debated by scientists. Through the examination of 130 species, and from remains found inside sperm whales, it is suggested that the torso of Giant Squids are not know to exceed 2.25 metres (7.4 feet). The Giant Squids total body length, including the head, torso, arms and tentacles, measured post-mortem, is estimated to be at 13 metres (43 feet) for females and 10 metres (33 feet) for males, with the maximum weight estimated at 275 kilograms (610 lb.) for females and 150 kilograms (330 lb.) for males.

Preserving the Giant Squid

In 2004 a Giant Squid was caught off the coast of the Falkland Islands by a fishing trawler. Later named ‘Archie’, the Giant Squid was 8..62 metres (28.3 feet) long and because it was a complete specimen, rather than others that had been studied in the past that had washed ashore dead, or been taken out of the stomachs of dead sperm whales, it was sent to the Natural History Museum in London, where it was examined, studied and carefully preserved for display at the Darwin Centre in the Natural History Museum.

Preserving the Giant Squid proved to be a difficult feat, as the frozen body needed to be thawed, but the tentacles were thawing more rapidly than the thick torso, which could have led to rotting. Scientists had to use water and ice packs to even out the thawing process before injecting the Giant Squid with a formol-saline solution to prevent further rotting.

The is also a Giant Squid on display at the Melbourne Aquarium in Australia, where in 2005 they paid A$100,000 for a Giant Squid that had been caught off the coast of New Zealand and preserved in a giant block of ice.

Photgraphing and Filming the Giant Squid

On September 30th 2004, researchers and scientists from the National Science Museum of Japan teamed up with the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association and where able to document the first photographs of a live giant squid in its natural habitat. The two teams had worked together for over two years, following sperm whales to their hunting grounds in an attempt to bait Giant Squid and capture photographs of it. A 900 metre (3000 feet) line was baited with shrimp and a flash camera was attached before being thrown overboard. After over twenty tries that day, an 8 metre (26 feet) Giant Squid attacked the line and bait, snagging its tentacle on the line. For four hours the camera took 556 photographs of the squid, which eventually broke free, leaving the 5.5 metre (18 feet) long tentacle still attached to the line. The photographs where released a year later.

Photographing the Giant Squid

On December 4th 2006 the same Japanese team successfully filmed a live adult giant squid for the first time. This occurred near the Ogasawara Islands, 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) south of Tokyo, where a female juvenile Giant Squid was filmed and captured. The Giant Squid was 3.5 metres (11 feet) long and weighed 50 kilograms (110 lb.). The Giant Squid was captured, but unfortunately died during the process.

Filming the Giant Squid

Famously known as the mysterious monster of the deep, sporting stories, folklore and inspiring horror and monster sea tales, the Giant Squid is slowly revealing its deep sea secrets. Hopefully one day this large, beautifully elusive creature will be successfully captured alive, so that the whole world can come to understand and appreciate this giant, majestic beast.