Not too long ago, sailors whispered about the terrible dangers of the giant squid. It’s likely that Kraken folklore rose from those tales, and they’ve now become part of our library of monsters. Giant squids, according to the tales, attacked and sank ships, killing the crew aboard. As it turns out, though, those tales were slightly exaggerated. Now, biologists not only know that giant squids do indeed exist, but they know that they are not the terrible monsters we once thought, and researchers aboard an NOAA vessel captured what The Dodo called the first-ever video of a giant squid in U.S. waters. According to reports, it’s only the second time a giant squid has been caught alive on camera.
“We did not find a monster,” the researchers wrote in the mission log entitled Here Be Monsters: We Filmed a Giant Squid in America’s Backyard. “Our perspective as humans has changed. What were once monsters to be feared are now curious and magnificent creatures that delight. We like to feel that science and exploration has brought about this change, making the world less scary and more wondrous with each new thing we learn.”
The footage was shot on Wednesday, June 19 on a 12-day expedition to explore some of the deepest parts of the Gulf of Mexico. They were studying the visual systems, bioluminescence, and fluorescence of creatures living below the 1,000-meter mark—an area called the midnight zone in which the only light comes from bioluminescence. Since bioluminescence is generally blue, most of the animals that live down there can’t see other colors, like red. The camera they used, called MEDUSA, uses primarily red light, so the animals they film aren’t aware of it.
Every day, the scientists aboard dropped thousands of feet of line into the depths. At the end of the line was a camera that captured what was down there. On Wednesday afternoon, when they were checking the footage, they were dumbfounded at what they saw.
“People quickly gathered around,” the team wrote. “We knew immediately that it was a squid. It was also big, but because it was coming straight at the camera, it was impossible to tell exactly how big. But big – at least 3 to 3.7 meters (10 to 12 feet) long.”
Identification books were yanked from the shelves in a bid to figure out exactly what they were seeing. “Latin names for animals shot out left and right, pictures were pointed to, opinions were tossed out,” wrote Sönke Johnsen, a Professor of Biology at Duke University and Edie Widder the CEO and senior scientist of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association. “The two of us that knew squid the best were ’70-percent sure’ it was a juvenile giant squid, but we couldn’t go any further.”
To find out for sure, they called in the big guns. “We needed one of the best squid experts in the world, Michael Vecchione at the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Services – National Systematics Laboratory at the Smithsonian,” they continued. They sent the video, and after a few hours of tortured waiting, they had an answer.
“Mike wrote back to say that he was nearly certain that it was a giant squid,” they said, “which is about as much as we could hope for. We cheered, talked about how to report it, and then had dinner.”