Atsa Lotta Sushi: The First Giant Squid on Film

by Jennifer Frazer on October 10, 2009

This is really old news, but since I mentioned it in my last post, I wanted to show you just how recently we finally captured images of live giant squid (Architeuthis dux) . The first still image came only in 2002 after a squid was towed to a harbor in Japan. The first video came in 2006. Here is the original footage as presented on Japanese TV in December 2006.

Is that narrator like our movie-trailer guy? It sure seem like he does the voice work for all Japanese newscasts and game shows. When that triumphant music comes on, I imagine he’s saying something like, “Congratulations! You caught and filmed a giant squid. You have now leveled up.” Here is the National Geographic Society’s take on the catch, complete with a better photo.

You’ll note at 0:35 the squid shoots some water out of its funnel, its “jet engine”. Squid fill their mantle (the large upper hood) with water and squeezes it out through this side tube to move forward. Also note that this squid is a young female. As in, it was a mere 24 feet long, and this species can approach 60 feet — implying it is just 1/3 of maximum estimated size.

Why is it incredible we only recently recovered images and film?

Scientists have known for over a century that giant squid from the beaks and pieces they dredged out of sperm whale stomachs. Dead specimens had washed up on shores in Newfoundland and New Zealand, from which one lucky specimen even made it to the Rev. Moses Harvey’s bathtub.


Bathtub technology has advanced considerably since 1873.

But because these creatures live in one of the most inacessible habitats on Earth — the cold, black benthic zone — live specimens eluded photography (and, for the most part, capture) for another 125 years. The Smithsonian’s specimens both came from Spain in 2005, and you can find the details on their capture and display here.

Giant squid aren’t the only tentacled terrors cruising the depths and hiding from cameras. Though scientists had known since the 1920s about the even larger colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) that haunts the treacherous Southern Ocean, the first images, film, and intact collection of this living creature were made only in 2007 by a New Zealand fishing crew longlining for Antarctic toothfish. Colossal squid can reach 46 feet long but have much larger and heavier mantles than giant squid.

As worrisome as all I’ve said so far may be to consider were one, say, out on a pleasure swim at 1,500 meters in squid-infested waters, consider this: not only is the colossal squid considerably larger and bulkier than the giant squid (although its arms are generally shorter), it also possesses hooks on its tentacles. Some swivel. Some have multiple prongs.


H.P. Lovecraft, eat your heart out.

Squid are cephalopods, which are in turn mollusks. To see a good mollusk family tree, click here. For the technical cephalopod tree, see the Tree of Life Web Project. Not for the faint of heart.

{ 2 trackbacks }

The Beast | A Schooner of Science
October 11, 2009 at 8:33 pm
When Sperm Whales Get the Munchies
December 10, 2010 at 5:41 pm

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Daniel Poth October 14, 2009 at 8:29 am

Extra props on the Princess Bride reference.

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