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Scientists snap first film of giant squid in action

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A team of scientists and broadcasters have captured the first images of a giant squid swimming and feeding in its natural environment.

"It was shining and so beautiful. I was so thrilled when I saw it first hand," Tsunemi Kubodera, a researcher at Japan's National Science Museum told AFP. "Researchers around the world have tried to film giant squid in their natural habitats, but all attempts were in vain before."

The three-man team spent 400 (presumably quite sweaty and fetid) hours crammed in a submersible searching for the elusive creature before finding one 630 meters (2,066 feet) down. Footage from The Guardian shows the cephalopod feeding on a bait squid set out by the team and swimming in a way that could well crop up in nightmares of the slithery kind.

Giant squid have been spotted before, with the first example back in 2005, but this is the first time they have been filmed underwater doing what they have evolved to do. The squid was then hooked and taken to the surface for measurement.

Giant squid

Hanging around, chewing some bait

The specimen was only about three meters (10 feet) long, because its two long tentacles had been severed. Kubodera offered no explanation for how this had occurred, but said that based on the size of the rest of the squid, it would have been around eight meters (26 feet) long when unmaimed.

The giant squid normally has eight thick arms lined with chitin-teethed suction cups and two longer tentacles, which it is thought to throw forward and latch onto prey spotted with its giant eyes before consuming it with its large beak. Its chief predator is the sperm whale, and most of the giant squid specimens originally found came from the stomachs of the massive marine mammals.

squid tentacles

Toothy suction cups seldom let go

It's not the largest squid in the vasty deep however. The colossal squid, found mainly around Antarctica, can grow up to 12–14 m (39–46 feet) long (although the largest specimen yet found was a tiddler at 10 meters (32 feet). In addition to suckers, the colossal squid has movable barbed hooks on its tentacles to ensure there is no escape for prey.

This giant squid was found just nine miles offshore of Chichi-jima Island in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, near Japan. Given that nation's superb cuisine, there will be more than a few restaurateurs looking to add a new form of shiokara or some tasty new nigiri (possibly garnished with whale for irony's sake) to the menu.

The film was shot by Japanese public broadcaster NHK and the US Discovery Channel, with US viewers of the latter station due to get the full report on January 27. ®

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