Daily TWiP Archives

Something interesting has happened on (just about) every day of the year, and Daily TWiP provides the proof. An offshoot of my local events column The Week in Preview (affectionately known as TWiP), Daily TWiP was published April 2008-Aug. 2011 and is still giving readers reasons to celebrate.

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Daily TWiP – Sept. 30, 2004: First images of a live giant squid in its natural habitat are taken

For centuries, the unfathomable creatures of the deep sea have been a source of fear and wonder to mankind. On Sept. 30, 2004, a little light was shed on one of the most elusive of these creatures, the giant squid, when it was photographed in its natural habitat for the first time ever.

There had been sightings of giant squids over the years by sailors and scientists alike, and a considerable amount of information had been gleaned from dead and dying giant squids that had washed up on beaches or become entangled in fishing nets.

Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum in Tokyo and Kyoichi Mori of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association decided to take a more active approach to researching the creature.

Sperm whales are known to be the major predators of giant squid (thanks to the countless squid beaks whalers have found in sperm whales’ stomachs over the years), so Kubodera and Mori tracked the whales to their hunting grounds to see if they might happen upon some giant squid.

Setting up about 3,000 feet from Japan’s Ogasawara Islands, Kubodera and Mori managed to attract a giant squid to their underwater camera by means of fishing lines baited with squid and bags of mashed shrimp. It may sound uncomfortably cannibalistic, but giant squid do prey on smaller squid species.

Before this event, there had been considerable debate as to whether the giant squid was an aggressive predator or whether it was more passive, floating in one place and using its long tentacles like fishing lines to catch whatever happened to be passing by.

The images Kubodera and Mori took (totaling more than 500) answered that question once and for all. The giant squid showed itself to be quite an aggressive predator, enveloping the bait with its tentacles and only disengaging when one of its tentacles became snagged on a hook on the bait apparatus.

The giant squid ended up leaving its snagged tentacle behind, and it was still twitching when the research team hauled it onboard their vessel for study. Like octopuses, squids are able to regenerate severed tentacles.

Assuming the 18-foot long tentacle was severed at its base, Kubodera and Mori estimated the giant squid was about 26 feet long. The longest giant squid ever measured was 59 feet, which meant this one was about an average specimen.

The giant squid is not to be confused with its close relative, the colossal squid. Although both creatures inhabit the deep ocean, living as deep as 3,300 feet below the surface, the giant squid is actually longer than the colossal squid.

The colossal squid, however, is heavier. Based on specimens that have been sighted or washed ashore, scientists believe colossal squids can weigh up to 1,600 pounds.

Don’t expect to find either of these creatures on the menu at your favorite seafood restaurant anytime soon. The colossal squid and the giant squid are both technically edible, but according to reports, floor cleaner is more palatable. Apparently sperm whales prefer quantity over taste when it comes to their favorite foods.

You can view photos of the giant squid taken by Kubodera and Mori online, courtesy of National Geographic.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published Sept. 30, 2010.

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