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About 80 percent of the Earth is covered in water. With the majority of life on this planet residing in the liquid we like to call the essence of life, we as humans represent a minority on this planet. Much of the underwater world remains a mystery to us, with the giant squid being one of the greatest mysteries of them all. How close are we to actually solving the mystery of this deep water giant?
For the first known citing of one of these creatures, you would have to go back to November of 1861, when crew members of the French dispatch steamer Alecton spotted what appeared to be a large sea monster off the coast of the Canary Islands. The crew threw harpoons at the creature, but those would not stay in the flesh for long. When the crew got close enough to put a noose around the creature, the rope tightened and cut through the animal, causing most of it to sink to the bottom of the sea. The crew, however, managed to pull the tail of the creature on board, and bring it back to the French Consul. From there the tail and a report about the creature made its way to the French Academy of Sciences.
Giant squid, of which there are many different species, have been spotted less than fifty times in the last century, but none have been seen in their natural habitat, the depths of the sea, or caught on tape. It was initially thought that squids only lived very deep in the ocean from 200-1000 meters beneath the surface, an area very difficult for scientists to study. Why then have these squids been seen at the ocean’s surface?
According to Dr. Malcolm Clarke of the Marine Biological Association, temperature affects the squid’s buoyancy mechanism. The warmer, shallower water will cause a giant squid to rise to the surface and not be able to get back down. With water temperature at it’s highest at the surface the squid would without a doubt not be able to get back down, thus resulting in people seeing giant squids at the surface of the ocean.
Occasionally, a giant squid will wash up on shore or will come up in a fishing net, which has allowed scientists to get a close observation of these squid and their anatomy.
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"The Mysterious Giant Squid." 123HelpMe.com. 26 Jan 2020
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The most recent finding of a dead giant squid occurred back in July of 2002. A giant squid was found on the coast of Tasmania, the third ever found there and the first since 1991. This squid measured about 60 feet in length, which is the largest squid that has ever been found and documented. It had several new features (which were unlisted) that caused scientists to investigate whether it was a new species of the mysterious underwater creature.
To move, the squid squeeze water through a funnel at the front of the body, which they also use to steer, making them “jet propelled”. As of right now, it is unsure whether it moves at a high speed or a low speed, as we have never been able to observe a live giant squid.
The mating habits of the giant squid are a mystery to the world, although females are believed to be larger than males. It is also unknown whether these creatures travel in schools or whether they go at it alone, and also how long their lifespan is. Most squid species are very short-lived, surviving not much more than a year. Scientists believe that the giant squid could live to be about three, but they do not know for certain.
Scientists are however making progress when it comes to studying these creatures and the way they live. Steve O’Shea of New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and his team of researchers went searching for baby giant squid. They stayed away from trying to capture a fully grown specimen because according to O’Shea, there are more larvae than adults which automatically makes the capture of an adult less likely. Also, an attempt to capture a fully grown giant squid would be dangerous, in particularly for the squid. Even if they did manage to capture it alive O’Shea said, it would be “unacceptably traumatized” by the ordeal. Therefore, the team went for the babies.
At first they used trawl nets to search in the most logical place, that being the deep ocean. They found only 1 of the baby squid, this of the species Architeuthis Dux, and it died very quickly.
They then switched their method early in 2001 to focus more on surface water, and they hit the jackpot, catching 14 baby giant squid. Some of these fourteen were kept alive for a while, and observed in tanks onboard the ship. Unfortunately, all 14 of the creatures died before the crew reached port, but an analysis of their DNA confirmed that they were in fact giant squid. O’Shea believes that the larvae died because they were not given the proper food light levels in the tank on the ship. The food may have been too small for them, and even if it wasn’t, the tank may have been kept too dark for them to find it. Their bodies looked perfectly healthy, so he does not believe they were harmed during netting of handling.
O’Shea looks says that if the squid are fed the right food and given a little light to work with, then he imagines they will survive. He and his team have kept baby broad squid, which previously fared no better than the giant squid larvae, alive for four weeks. If all goes well, O’Shea says the group will eventually raise a baby giant squid until it reaches about ten feet in length, including the tentacles. “I certainly don’t think I want to get into a tank with anything larger than that” explained O’Shea, who also added that making a tank for anything bigger than ten feet would pose a significant problem.
Because of this discovery, O’Shea feels that giant squid will be caught on tape any day now. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and as scientists continue to learn more about these creatures, it becomes more likely that we will be in that right place, waiting to finally document the life of this underwater mystery.