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Why the giant squid, the mythical kraken from the deep sea, continues to baffle scientists 150 years after its discovery
Giant squids live in the dark depths of the ocean, and to this day very little is known about them.
Most of what is known about this creature is that it can grow up to 12 meters long and live in a world without sunlight . Also that their bodies can be found floating in the sea or extracted from the belly of sperm whales.
In 2005, one was photographed for the first time and in 2013 the first recording was achieved. However, scientists believe there are millions of them in the sea.
In June, an expedition from the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research captured the first images of a giant squid in American waters.
The journalist David Grann wrote in The New Yorker that the giant squid can be “bigger than a whale and stronger than an elephant, with a beak that can cut steel wires.”
This is all we know about this mysterious beast.
They live more than 400 meters deep in the ocean. The giant squid inhabits the deepest and darkest places in the world. No one knows for sure how long they live, how they find a partner, how they migrate, where they lay their eggs, or even if they make any sound.
Genetics shows that they have existed for about 730,000 years. There has been talk about them in human legends for hundreds of years. The giant squid are the inspiration of “Kraken”, an animal of Norse mythology, also named in the book by Jules Verne “20,000 leagues of underwater travel”.
In “The Natural History of Norway” of 1755, a fairly accurate description is provided, indicating that the giant squid was as large as “a number of small islands”. In addition, he added that, when it sinks it causes eddies.
Until about 150 years ago, most people did not believe they were real. They were thought to be legendary sea monsters. However, everything changed when marks began to be found on the skin of sperm whales made by these squid. His remains were also found inside the whales.
In 1857, Japetus Steenstrup, a Danish zoologist at the University of Copenhagen, introduced the figure of this animal into the scientific community. Having studied some remains appeared in Denmark, he published his research and confirmed to the world that the giant squid was real. He called them Architeuthis Dux, which in Latin means “squid ruler.”
In 1873, three fishermen from the Bay of Conception, in the Gulf of California, met one of these specimens. Faced with the sinking of the ship, they defended themselves, and the squid escaped after releasing dark clouds of ink. Still, the fishermen managed to see their 6 meter tentacles.
What proved its existence were the numerous corpses that began to appear, although it was still difficult to see one of these squids alive.
The reason why fishermen have found so many bodies is that they are filled with ammonium ions, which are lighter than seawater, which causes them to float after death.
In 1997, National Geographic tried to use sperm whales to study the giant squid. They put video cameras, hoping to see the whale eating the squid, but failed to see it.
Despite the initial success of Streenstrup, very few people have managed to study this creature. They appear very occasionally. In fact, for Ángel Guerra Sierra, a researcher from the Higher Council of Scientific Research (CSIC), studying these sea beasts “can only be a hobby” because of the difficulty involved.
New Zealand marine biologist Steve O’Shea, whom The New Yorker dubbed “The Squid Hunter”, was for a time one of the best-known giant squid scientists. His research began in 1996 and ended in 2011.
When asked why he was continuing his investigation, he told Business Insider that he had promised to chronicle the life of these squid in his teens.
“In the end it always happened to me the same, I found only dead bodies and never got to see them alive. This frustrated me, broke my dreams. But I swore to continue my search until I had achieved what I had proposed,” he said.
One of O’Shea’s goals was to take one of these animals to an aquarium. He wanted everyone, not just scientists and fishermen, to experience “his majesty” closely.
In 2003, O’Shea led a team that tried to document the life of the giant squid while migrating to New Zealand. His plan was to crush the squid’s sexual organs and throw them into the water so that the squids would mate in front of the camera.
“The house freezer, to my wife’s disgust, was full of samples of giant squid gonads,” he told the BBC . “The idea was to shred everything, and drop it in front of the camera to try to record something unpublished.”
He said that “the” dream “was to get” sensational images of the giant squid trying to mate in front of the camera. ” The experiment failed.
On September 30, 2004, the giant squid became a little less mythical. Marine biologists Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori captured the first image of a giant live squid on the coast of the Japanese island of Chichijima, where sperm whales with suction marks had been recorded.
They lowered a hook with a camera and put the bait to 1,000 meters deep. One of these beasts attacked, and used its tentacles to wrap the bait, like a python wrapping its prey. After four hours of trying to release his tentacles, he died.
Tsunemi said the incident changed the perception of this squid as a relaxed and deep-sea predator, and gave way to the image of fast and agile predator from the depths.
Tsunemi was on a roll. In 2006, his team published the first video of a live giant squid. It was relatively small, 50 kilos and 3 meters long, but it was the first moving image of the creature. “No one has ever seen a giant live squid except fishermen,” he told Reuters.
In 2007, a giant squid 2 meters long and 250 kilos in weight appeared in Tasmania, Australia. With its tentacles it measured 8 meters, the same length as a bus. David Pemberton said that it was one of the largest ever discovered. It was thought that the squid fed on fish in the cold winter waters of Australia.
In 2012, it was recorded for the first time in its natural habitat. The trick was to use a camera, designed by marine biologist Edith Widder, that emitted a blue light, like that produced by a type of jellyfish known as Atolla. The squid they captured in the camera was wrapped around the camera, and confirmed to the scientists that it was a predator.
Widder told the BBC that there were probably millions in the oceans, as they kept many sperm whales fed. So, knowing this, he designed a camera without propellers or motor. The only illumination was the red light, invisible to deep-sea animals since they have adapted to see mainly blue.
“This turned out to be the last time I would be facing the camera chasing this hellish animal,” O’Shea said. “When Ku managed to record it, he said they were the most impressive images ever recorded, and there was no need to continue.”
More evidence was collected in 2016, when a 104 kg female giant squid appeared dead at the Estaca de Bares, La Coruña. His death indicated the possibility of killing each other.
In waters of northern Spain, the giant squid feeds on fish called bacaladilla, which swim near the surface. The giant squid has to rise to the surface to catch them. The scientists thought that what could have happened is that a second squid could have attacked the first by returning to the depths and stealing his food.
After the altercation, the scientists thought it might have floated back to warmer waters, which decreases the blood flow in the squid, and causes something close to suffocation. In such a state, he would not have been able to fight the current, which dragged him to the shore.
In June 2019, about 100 kilometers southwest of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico, the first was recorded in American waters. Nathan Robinson, who led the team, found the video after reviewing 20 hours of filming. “My heart was going to explode,” he told the New York Times.
The discovery was considered important because it was recorded not far from one of the largest deep-sea oil rigs. Sönke Johnsen, a professor of biology at Duke University, told the New York Times that he dispelled the feeling that a monster was stalking in remote waters.
“You could be here, and a giant squid could be under you, it’s a thing of our wildest imagination! They are part of our land, they are part of our country,” Johnsen told NYT.
For now, the largest giant squid recorded was 13 meters long. Its relative, the colossal squid, can grow up to 14 meters long, but scientists believe the giant squid can grow up to 20.
Both the colossal squid and the giant have the largest eyes on the planet, up to 30 cm wide, as large as a basketball. Scientists think it is because they are necessary to see bioluminescence clouds, which allows them to know if there are sperm whales approaching.
The sharp beak in the center of its body cuts its prey into small pieces, which are then crushed by an organ similar to a tongue covered with teeth. When the giant squid was recorded in 2014, it did not break the bait as expected, but ate small bites, slowly consuming the shrimp, so it did not drown.
Giant squids have eight arms, and use two long tentacles to grab their prey. However, these tentacles have no muscle to narrow. So if you find yourself face to face with one, your only option is to run away.
Clyde Roper, a retired giant squid hunter, told the BBC that if he catches his prey with enough suckers, it would be impossible to escape.
The American explorer and filmmaker Scott Cassell told Business Insider that the giant squid should be considered an “indicator species”, since it does not live long and is prolific, occupying all the oceans.
“They can offer valuable clues about ocean health, both in the distribution of the species on which they depend as food, and for the species that depend on them as food. In a way, they are the central species,” he said. “Unfortunately, the open sea is a terrible business and there is little reward for saving our oceans, and huge profits by killing it, overfishing, mining, maritime transport. It seems that the paradigm will not change soon.”
To this day a lot is unknown about this beast, and due to the warming of the waters since the oceans are becoming more acidic, the species could die without us noticing.
For now, they remain mysterious, elusive and difficult to catch. As Roper told the BBC, because of their size and how creepy they are, it’s easy to imagine them as violent beasts.
“Humans need their own monsters,” he summarizes.
Source: Business Insider