Cracking the kraken mystery: Japanese scientists film giant squid in its natural habitat

Giant squid

Giant squid photo by NASA 1999

It was once thought to be impossible, but the giant squid video released January 7, 2012 by the Discovery Channel and Japan’s National Science Museum showed that humans could actually capture film of the elusive creature in its natural habitat. In December, Discovery made the announcement that Japanese scientists had captured footage of the creature thought to have inspired the kraken of Greek Mythology, popularized in recent films such as Clash of the Titans.

“Since we’re inclined to take a ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ view of the world over here, it’s safe to say that we were all dubious of the claim, especially when past experience has shown that such overhyped discoveries are often run-of-the-mill colossal squid that don’t even merit a second glance,” wrote Steven Romano in his January 7, 2012 Geekosystem post “Giant Squid footage is actually of a giant squid, and its apparently silver.” The contributor was thrilled, however, that his cynicism was misplaced. The release of an image and a few seconds of film from the raw footage, taken by Tsunemi Kubodera and his team, proved without a doubt that humans had ventured into the giant squid’s domain and captured proof of their visit.

Years in the making

The film captured by Kubodera was the work of more than the 400 hours he and his team spent in their research sub. Dr. Clyde Roper, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the giant squid, has been looking for a living specimen in its natural habitat for years. In 1999, Roper wrapped up an expedition into New Zealand’s Kaikoura Canyon with no sightings, though the team was able to study corpses of the creature caught in fishing nets. The Smithsonian zoologist, also funded in part by the Discovery Channel, noted how inaccessible the creature’s habitat is.

In 2004, Japanese scientists were able to capture the first photographs of the giant squid in its habitat. The same team caught a live squid and hauled it to the surface, where they filmed it, in 2006.

“For hundreds of years, stories and legends and myths have been perpetuated about these huge animals, largely because we have no biological or behavioral information about them,” Roper said in an April 18, 1999 interview, “Smithsonian in search of a giant squid,” with Karen Goldberg Goff of the Washington Times. “Giant squids are portrayed in movies and books as being fearsome beasts that attack ships and eat people. It has always been my objective to try and learn the truth about giant squid, to learn the truth about where they live and how they live and what their behavior is so I can dispel these myths. I have always believed it is much more interesting to know about the real animals than to make up stories, especially horror stories.”

Architeuthis facts

The reasons giant squid, which have the scientific name architeuthis, are so hard to study is due in part to the depth of their home environments. Some fast facts about giant squid include:

  • The giant squid lives between 660 feet and 3,300 feet below sea level.
  • It can grow as long as 59 feet and weigh up to a ton.
  • Its eyes run about 10 inches in diameter, or about the size of a human head.
  • The scientific name comes from the Greek for “ruling squid.”
  • After death, the body of a giant squid decomposes rapidly, making it difficult for scientists to study the anatomy.
  • The beaks of giant squid have been found in the stomachs of sperm whales.

Kubodera’s team

Traveling via research submarine, Kubodera’s team spotted the squid more than a half mile below the surface of the ocean, 620 miles south of Tokyo. Knowing that the giant squid would avoid bright lights and a loud vehicle, the team avoided those usual flaws of research vessels trying to capture footage of the squid. The specimen they discovered was small – only about three meters long – but it was missing its two longest tentacles; with them, it might have been closer to eight meters, or over 26 feet in length.

In his January 8, 2013 article “All hail the kraken: Scientists capture live footage of giant squid” Nolan Feeney of Time magazine quoted the reaction of biologist Edie Widder, a member of Kubodera’s 2012 expedition. “It looked carved out of metal. And it would change from being silver to gold. It was just breathtaking.”

The full footage will be released on January 27, 2012, on the Discovery Channel’s Monster Squid: The Giant Is Real. For more information on ocean life, visit Questia’s topic page on marine biology.

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