Giant Squid Revealed

Filmed for the first time in its natural habitat, the giant squid (Architeuthis), finally will be exposed to the world on January 27, 2013. This achievement has been a long time coming. There have been previous such expeditions - all failures. This time was different. There were many factors that came together to make this effort such a resounding success. One of these was a new approach to deep ocean exploration that pays heed to the natural visual environment of the vast midwater realm that is home to these leviathans. This is a world of the very dimmest of lights - both sunlight filtered through hundreds of meters of ocean and - bioluminescence - the living light that animals use to aid their survival in a light-limited world. The enormous eye of the giant squid - the largest in the animal kingdom - attests to how important vision must be to its survival. Using optical lures that imitate bioluminescence to attract the squid and far red light invisible to the squid in order to see without being seen proved to be the key to success.

The Road To Success

The expedition was initiated with financing from the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, NHK, which was inspired to undertake the high risk endeavor - despite the failures of previous attempts - by the success of Japanese squid expert Dr. Tsunemi Kubodera who was the first person to capture still images of the Giant Squid using a baited underwater camera.

Dr. Widder was invited to join the expedition because of her successes with the Eye-in-the-Sea, a deep-sea camera observatory that she developed as a means of exploring the deep ocean unobtrusively. The Eye-in-the-Sea uses low light imaging in combination with far-red illumination that is invisible to most deep-sea animals. The primary motivation for its development was the desire to observe animals that would normally be disturbed or frightened away by the white lights and noisy thrusters used on standard observation platforms.

The Eye-In-The-Sea Deep Sea Camera

She also developed a novel optical lure that imitates certain bioluminescent displays, thought to be attractive to large predators. Known as the electronic jellyfish or e-jelly the lure imitates the bioluminescent burglar alarm display of the common deep-sea jellyfish Atolla wyvillei. (Click on e-jelly to see display)

Click on image of the jellyfish (below right) to see how it appears in the deep sea, illuminated by white light, and then see its bioluminescent burglar alarm display recorded in a ship-board laboratory.  It is this pinwheel display that the e-jelly was designed to imitate.  Bioluminescent burglar alarms are a scream for help - the last ditch efforts of an animal that is caught in the clutches of a predator and has no other hope for survival than to attract the attention of a larger predator that may attack their attacker and thereby afford them an opportunity for escape. It was hoped that such a display would be of great interest to a visual predator like the giant squid.

Early version of the E-jelly where the LEDs were embedded in Epoxy. You can just make out the word Ziploc in the Epoxy revealing what a shoe-string operation this was in the early stages.

Atolla wyvillei

The Medusa with e-jelly.  The e-jellies designed for use on the Medusa and from the submersible were self-powered by D cells inside the Benthos sphere.

The Eye-in-the-Sea has gone through several incarnations including a moored version that was the world’s first deep-sea web cam. The version used during this mission has been dubbed the Medusa because it can operate in the midwater as well as on the bottom.  For the deployment off Japan it was deployed in mid-water mode, suspended on 700 m of line by a float at the surface outfitted with a satellite tracking beacon.

The e-jelly was mounted on a bar in front of the camera. Activated with a magnetic switch prior to each deployment, it alternated 1 min on (in pinwheel display) with 1 min off. Each deployment was ~30 h, which was the maximum recording time allowed by the battery charge.

Squid Squad
The Scientists - New Zealand squid expert, Dr. Steve O’Shea, Japanese squid expert, Dr. Tsunemi Kubodera, and American bioluminescence expert Dr. Edie Widder (left photo, pictured left to right)

Science support for ORCA’s Medusa: Graduate student , Wen-Sung Chung (left, upper right photo) from Dr. Justin Marshall’s lab at the University of Queensland, Australia provided at-sea assistance.  Land based support was provided by ORCA research associate, Brandy Nelson (left, lower right) and ocean engineer, Lee Frey (right, lower right)

Science support for Steve O’Shea was provided by Severine Dewas (right, upper right photo) .




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Feeding Frenzy
Giant 6 Gill
Sharpnose 7 Gill
Sleeper Sharks
Giant Isopods
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American Sacfish


A goliath grouper emits a booming sound as loud as a jet engine at 100 feet.

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