In ancient legend they were called the kraken, fearsome sea monsters of giant proportions that would drag sailors down to their doom. More than 2,000 years later, the world still remains mystified by the creatures we now know as giant squids. But researchers, led by internationally renowned zoologist Tsunemi Kubodera, are doing their best to unlock the secrets of the fabled deep-sea denizens. Last week at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, Kubodera conducted a dissection of a 394-cm-long specimen along with a team of researchers from universities and other institutions around the country. "The giant squid is a very rare animal," said Kubodera, who in 2012 became the first person in the world to film one of the giant creatures in its natural habitat, descending nearly 1 km beneath the surface in a small submersible to record the creature near the Ogasawara Islands about 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo.
The extremely rare bigfin squid, a deep-sea creature found more than 2 kilometres underwater, has been spotted in Australian waters for the first time. Deborah Osterhage at CSIRO in Hobart, Australia, and her colleagues came across the squid during underwater surveys in the Great Australian Bight, an open bay off Australia's southern coast. "I knew exactly what it was when I saw it, probably because I'm a bit of a deep sea geek," says Osterhage. "They're very rarely seen around the world." Only three sightings had previously been recorded in the southern hemisphere. Bigfin squid (Magnapinna) have a distinctive appearance: they have large fins that make their main bodies nearly as wide as they are long, and also have extremely long, filament-like tentacles, which they can bend into an elbow-like appearance.
Cock-eyed squid have one huge, bulging eye and another normal-sized eye, but the reason has remained a mystery. Now we have an answer. Kate Thomas of Duke University in North Carolina studied 161 videos of the creatures collected over 26 years by remotely operated submarines in Monterey Bay, California. The findings provide the first behavioural evidence that the two eyes are adapted to look in different directions. The large one points upwards to spot prey silhouetted against the sky.
Fishermen have wondered about the "cock-eyed" squid's mismatched eyes for more than a hundred years. Its bulging left eye is big and yellow, whereas the right eye is much smaller and clear. "They are freaky and weird looking--you want to know what is going on with their eyeballs," says Duke biologist Katie Thomas, who led a new study on the animal, also called the strawberry squid. In the 1970s, Richard Young, a squid biologist, had hypothesized that the larger eye detects dim sunlight, which helps the squid spot prey swimming overhead. But the creatures are difficult to study in their habitat, which can be as far as 3,300 feet deep.