Though humans have known about the giant squid since reports of carcasses appeared in the 14th century – and legends of the Kraken suggest sightings predate that by hundreds of years – sightings of the great creatures alive and well are incredibly rare. Most of what we know about them is still based on studies of remains washed up on the shore.
The first known photos of the giant cephalopod only emerged in 2004, and it was another two years before a fleeting bit of footage caught a second glimpse, and another six years before scientists manage to capture the incredible first real footage of a giant squid in its natural environment.
Now, researchers have captured stunning footage of what looks to be a juvenile giant squid, in the Gulf of Mexico, the first time these amazing creatures have been spotted in US waters.
Researchers from a range of institutes, on an expedition funded by NOAA, realized they had caught the video of the elusive creature on Wednesday, June 19, on a day that sounds wild, even for ocean explorers. Around 30 minutes after they discovered their incredible footage, their ship got struck by lightning, frying an antenna and leaving them fearing the precious footage had just been found and lost in one go.
Luckily it survived, and when they managed to get their Internet back up and running they received confirmation from squid expert Michael Vecchione at NOAA’s National Systematics Laboratory at the Smithsonian that indeed they had caught a giant squid, around 3 to 3.7 meters (10 to 12 feet) long, most likely a juvenile.
Looming out of the darkness you can see what looks like a faint long pale blur following the “e-jelly”, the electronic jellyfish used as a lure to entice deep-sea creatures in the dark, before long tentacles suddenly swoop towards the camera and wrap themselves around the lure.
It’s easy to see why sightings of these mysterious creatures looming out of the water inspired tales of sea monsters, giant octopus-like creatures, and Krakens that could take down a ship with their tentacles and terrified the living daylights out of sailors.
It was once thought that fully grown Architeuthis (Greek for “chief squid”) reached 30 meters (100 feet) in length, but despite the largest one ever measured coming in at 13 meters (43 feet) long, the average size of an adult is more like 9-10.5 meters (30-35 feet).
With eight arms, and two long tentacles tipped with sharp suckers, often twice the length of the rest of the squid, two giant eyes (the largest in the animal kingdom) and a sharp beak that can devour fish and other squid, Architeuthis is the stuff of legends.
However, we know that the giant squid isn’t even the biggest squid in the ocean. That accolade goes to the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni), and even less is known about it. Unlike the giant squid, which can be found in most oceans around the world, the colossal squid is only found in the colder southern oceans, from Antarctica to the tip of Africa and South America.
It is likely the colossal squid is what gave rise to the mythical Kraken – often erroneously linked to Greek mythology – which was referred to in the ancient Norse sagas, and was said to live in the waters of Norway and Greenland. Cetus, the sea monster Perseus slew in Greek mythology could have been a shark, whale, or sea monster, and was never thought of as a giant squid or Kraken, even if modern movies are determined to mix up their mythologies.