September 28, 2005

First photos of giant squid show it very active

By Takanori Isshiki

TOKYO (Reuters) - The first photographs of a live giant
squid -- one of the most mysterious creatures in the deep ocean
-- suggest it is a more active creature than previously
thought, a Japanese scientist said on Wednesday.

Until now the only information about the behaviour of the
creatures which measure up to 18 metres (59 feet) in length has
been based on dead or dying squid washed up on shore or
captured in commercial fishing nets.

But Tsunemi Kubodera, of the National Science Museum, and
Kyoichi Mori of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association, both
in Tokyo have captured the first images of Architeuthis
attacking bait 900 metres (yards) below the surface in the
cold, dark waters of the North Pacific.

"Up to now, giant squids were thought to be relatively
sluggish squids that stay in deep waters without moving much
... But we found out that they move around pretty actively,"
Kubodera told Reuters in an interview.

Kubodera and Mori published their unprecedented finding in
the journal Proceedings B of the Royal Society on Wednesday.

Kubodera said he was particularly struck by the way the
giant squid -- which was captured on film in a sequence of
photographs taken every 30 seconds -- tangled its prey in its
elongated feeding tentacles.

"It's probably almost exactly the same as the way giant
snakes wrap up their prey ... with their bodies," said Kubodera
as he stood before a mounted specimen of a separate giant squid
displayed at the National Science Museum in the Japanese

"That surprised me a little bit," he said.

The Japanese scientists found the squid by following sperm
whales, the most effective hunters of giant squid, as they
gathered to feed between September and December in the deep
waters off the coast of the Ogasawara Islands in the North

They used a remote long-line camera and depth logging
system to capture the giant squid in the ocean depths.

The photos showed the giant squid thrashing its tentacles
about after one of its tentacles got caught on a hook that the
bait had been attached to.

It eventually escaped, but left behind a part of a white

"When we stuck our fingers out it (the tentacle) stuck on
pretty firmly. It got stuck on the deck of the boat ... and
didn't come off easily. It was still alive," Kubodera said,
referring to the tentacle.

Little is known about giant squids, which may have been the
basis for the legend of the "kraken" -- huge, tentacled
monsters that sailors claimed to have encountered in seas off
Norway in the 18th century.

Despite the surprising activity of the giant squid captured
on film, Kubodera said he thought it lived too deep underwater
to pose a menace to sailors like the legendary sea monster.

"They live in areas 900 metres to 1,000 metres deep
although they come up at night to around 400 metres to 500

"It's unthinkable that the giant squid that we photographed
would come up to the surface and drag ships down like that,"
Kubodera said, referring to the kraken of legend.

"But with the ocean, there are still many unknowns," he

(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds, Patricia Reaney
in London)