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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: April 26, 2006
Latest Update: April 26, 2006

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September 28, 2005
Legendary Monster of the Deep Is Captured on Film

For decades, scientists and sea explorers have mounted costly expeditions to hunt down and photograph the giant squid, a legendary monster with eyes the size of dinner plates and a nightmarish tangle of tentacles lined with long rows of sucker pads.

The goal has been to learn more about a bizarre creature of no little fame - Jules Verne's attacked a submarine and Peter Benchley's ate children - that in real life has stubbornly refused to give up its secrets.

While giant squid have been snagged in fishing nets and dead or dying ones have washed ashore, expeditions have repeatedly failed to photograph a live one in its natural habitat, the inky depths of the sea. But today two Japanese scientists, Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori, report in a leading British biological journal that they have made the world's first observations of a giant squid in the wild.

Working about 600 miles south of Tokyo off the Bonin Islands, known in Japan as the Ogasawara Islands, they photographed the creature with a robotic camera at a depth of 3,000 feet. During a struggle lasting more than four hours, the animal, about 26 feet long, took the proffered bait and eventually broke free, leaving behind an 18-foot length of tentacle.

The giant squid, the researchers conclude, "appears to be a much more active predator than previously suspected, using its elongate feeding tentacles to strike and tangle prey." The tentacles could apparently coil into a ball, much as a python envelops its victims.

The researchers are reporting their find today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the B standing for the biological sciences.

"This has been a mystery for a thousand years," said Richard Ellis, author of "Monsters of the Sea" (Knopf, 1994). "Nobody knew what they looked like in the wild. We only saw them dead. These images will open the door to more detailed study of their life."

The squid hunters themselves are agog. "Wow!" said Emory Kristof, a photographer for National Geographic who twice ventured to New Zealand in hopes of capturing giant squid on film. "It's always been presumptuous to say you're hunting the giant squid when we know so little. It's great that they got it."

The Japanese researchers work for the National Science Museum in Tokyo and the Ogasawara Whale-Watching Association. They discovered the giant by following packs of sperm whales, which are known to feed on the giant squid.

They created a float system with a long line from which they suspended a robotic camera and strobe light. The camera looked downward at hooks baited with small squid and took pictures every 30 seconds. A bag of mashed shrimps acted as an odor lure. The researchers set up a number of such rigs near the Bonin Islands.

On Sept. 30 of last year, a squid attacked the lowest bait on a rig that was positioned about 1,000 feet above the seafloor. Giant squid have eight short arms and two long tentacles. During the attack, the squid wrapped its two long tentacles like a ball around the bait, the researchers report.

One tentacle was caught, and the creature moved violently for four hours to break free. After 4 hours and 13 minutes of struggle, the animal tore away, leaving the tentacle behind.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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