Identity Of Mystery Giant Squid That Gatecrashed Shipwreck Search Revealed


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

clockOct 26 2021, 10:52 UTC
purpleback flying squid

To be fair, so many arms and the ability to breathe underwater would make for a great marine scientist. Image courtesy of OceanX

Fishing around in the ocean can turn up some unexpected things, including shipwrecks, ginormous beasts, and mysterious species. An expedition by OceanX back in 2020 managed to have all three, as an unidentified giant swooshed past while they were inspecting a surprise find: the Pella, a ferry that sank after catching fire in 2011.

The remarkable scene was stumbled across by a remote operating vehicle (ROV) owned by the marine research organization. The year was 2020, and the OceanXplorer research ship had set out to map the seafloor of the northern Red Sea. Using onboard technologies, they were able to establish the lay of the land but came across a 100-meter (328-foot) long lump on the seafloor.


Unsure whether they were looking at coral, a big rock, or something more interesting, they sent the ROV to explore, and sure enough there sat the sunken Pella. Just as it seemed things couldn’t get any more exciting, in swooshed what appeared to be an enormous squid, which zoomed towards the ROV before making a hasty exit.

While the Pella’s remains were easy enough to identify, pinning down the many-legged mystery that paid them a visit proved more difficult to solve. Fortunately, the mysterious squid appeared to make an appearance in every single one of the ROV’s three visits to the wreck, though it’s possible the cameos were the work of more than one animal.

Armed with their footage, the team behind the discovery sought to settle the debate in seeking the expertise of invertebrate zoologist Michael Vecchione of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Washington. To their delight, he had an answer.

"We got photobombed by the giant purpleback," Mattie Rodrigue, science program lead at OceanX, told Live Science. You’ve been rumbled, Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis.


Purpleback flying squids are found across the Pacific and Indian oceans and can be identified by a large yellow light organ that’s visible in larger individuals. They range in size from dwarf to giant, with this one sitting at around 2-meters (6-feet) in length, likely slotting it under the latter category.

They enjoy the open ocean and will dive down to depths of around 1,000 meters (3,281 feet), rising daily at night to feed nearer the surface. While so many sightings at the Pella could indicate they’re fans of shipwrecks, there’s little concrete data regarding this. However, considering these sites often attract an influx of fish, shipwrecks may bring all the purpleback flying squids to the yard, too.

[H/T: Live Science]

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