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The search for the lair of the Giant Squid

Who better to launch a search for the giant squid than noted "chief teuthologists" themselves. Teuthologists are scientists who study an animal group called cephalopods. Cephalopods are ancient invertebrate animals and can be traced back about 450 million years to a time when sea organisms dominated the Earth. Squid ancestors are known to have appeared about 400 million years ago, earlier than the first fish ever appeared in the ocean.

Squid experts have dissected many washed-up giant squid carcasses and they have studied many of its cephalopod relatives in order to make educated guesses about this elusive creature. But in order for their studies to be complete, they need to find a live giant squid.

That goal has seen a few deep-sea expeditions in the past few years, but scientists have yet to see this huge, 10-arm sea monster swimming past their underwater cameras.

Because scientists know that sperm whales eat squid, they came to the natural conclusion that if they followed the sperm whales they would find the "Chief." In 1996, a team of scientists and researchers traveled to the Azores Islands. They cleverly attached cameras to sperm whales, hoping that they would catch a live battle between squid and sperm whale, but this did not happen.

They went out on another hunt in February and March of 1997. This time, the team embarked on a voyage to Kaikoura Canyon, an underwater canyon, off New Zealand. In addition to using cameras on sperm whales, researchers used two other methods. They sent out an unmanned autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that looked like a miniature whale with a camera tucked in front. And they employed another camera called a "ropecam," something like a video camera on a fishing line complete with its own fish bait, in hopes of luring hungry squid. Even with all of this, they did not catch a glimpse of the big one.

Undaunted, scientists took up the challenge once more. They returned to the Kaikoura Canyon in February and March of 1999, but the giant squid, if this is indeed where they live, did not show themselves to the cameras.

Scientists have made two trips to this area of New Zealand because it's believed that this is one of the most likely places for giant squids to be found. In the first place, a high concentration of sperm whales, the giant squid's chief predator occurs here, and a vast, relatively unexplored underwater geology means that there may be endless nooks and crannies in which giant squid may hide. This animal has been successful at never letting a camera take a picture of it.

Scholars assume that because few giant squid have ever been caught in the deep-sea nets cast by commercial fisherman, they must reside in areas that are difficult for humans to enter. Continental slopes and deep canyons are logical areas in which giant squid may reside.

Kaikoura Canyon is a perfect example of both. Just a mile from land, the ocean drops off dramatically to 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) deep to form a wall of the canyon. Then the trenches descend as deep as 30,000 FEET (6.7 km) below sea level.

But scientists still don't know at what depth the squid reside. Some reports say that giant squid have been captured in fisherman's nets that were trawling in mid-waters. Yet reports from scientists who have examined the stomach contents of sharks or whales say there is evidence that giant squid are most likely found near the very bottom because this is where these animals are known to hunt for their dinner.

The verdict is still out and may remain so until someone can sight these shy creatures. Scientists remain hopeful that one of their future voyages to the deep, dark abyss will eventually reveal a sneak peak at the underwater lair of the chief squid.

The Kraken

Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, 1830
Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth; faintest sunlights flee
Above his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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