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A giant squid has been captured on film for the first time off the Gulf of Mexico.
The black and white video shows a dark underwater scene before a single white arm comes into frame, the arm suddenly multiplies revealing the enormous tentacles of a juvenile giant squid that is estimated to be at least 12 feet long.
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The remarkable footage was captured by a team of researchers on an expedition funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The scientists were studying the effects of light deprivation on sea creatures living 3,280 feet below the surface, an area dubbed the “midnight zone.”
Scientist battle lightning and waterspouts to protect footage
The story of how the footage is captured is told in a captivating blog post by Sönke Johnsen, Professor of Biology at Duke University and Edie Widder, CEO and Senior Scientist at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA).
The squid's short appearance was captured using a specialized probe known as Medusa. The system uses a red light that is undetectable to deep-sea creatures. This invisible light has helped researchers discover new deep-sea species as well as observe very rare and elusive animals.
This special camera was combined with a fake jellyfish that emitted a light made to mimic the bioluminescent glow that the invertebrate uses as part of their defense mechanism. Squid can detect this glow and move towards their potential prey.
The crew had just two days left of their two-week mission when the squid made its appearance. The scientists on board were overcome with excitement but had to wait for expert confirmation of the footage before they could truly celebrate.
Amidst the excitement, a storm including a sea-borne waterspout threatened their safety. The giant squid is one of the most elusive sea creatures on earth. It can grow many meters in length and has eight writhing arms as well as two slashing tentacles.
Super rare deep-sea creature
It has the largest eyes of any other known creature on Earth and beaks that can easily rip flesh. The giant squid has blue blood and three hearts. Scientifically, almost nothing is known about the majestic creature.
In 2014, Japanese scientists managed to take a sample from a living squid but most research is based on the bodies of dead creatures that wash up on shore. The researchers noted their amazement that the animals were found only about 100 miles southeast of New Orleans.
“The old maps often showed serpents at the edge, with the warning "here be monsters." However, the "monsters" are here, in our own backyard,” the blog post reads.
“It's not often appreciated, but half of US territory is underwater, extending 200 miles or so from the coast. We are also right at the edge of the Gulf oil field, and only a few miles from the Appomattox Deepwater oil rig, one of the largest on the planet. We see it burning off methane each night at sunset. The creature of our wildest imagination is living not in a pristine deep, but among the heaviest tools of our energy infrastructure."
The impressive creature is the basis of many mystical and terrifying stories such as the myth of Kraken, a Scandinavian story popular amongst fishermen that describes a giant squid that terrorizes people at sea.
Fear turns to curiosity
The scientist who filmed the discovery makes it clear that our attitudes to the unknown are changing.
“Most importantly, we did not find a monster,” they write. “The giant squid is large and certainly unusual from our human perspective, but if the video shows anything of the animal's character, it shows an animal surprised by its mistake, backing off after striking at something that at first must have seemed appealing but was obviously not food."
"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.”