Offbeat

Giant Squid Netted in Gulf of Mexico

The giant squid is a rare species and the last time one was found in the Gulf of Mexico (floating dead off the Mississippi Delta to be exact) was back in 1954.

But last July, US scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service got quite a surprise when they unexpectedly netted a 19.5-foot (5.9-meter) giant squid off the coast of Louisiana. Caught in a trawl net more than 1,500 feet underwater, the squid weighed 103 pounds.

When brought to the surface, the creature died, as the rapid change in water depth proved lethal, almost like the “bends syndrome” suffered by divers who come up too fast from great depths. The squid was preserved and sent for further study to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

The scientists who made the discovery were involved in a two-year, $550,000 study concerning the diets of sperm whales. To give you some perspective of exactly how large this creature was, consider the photo of the cross section indicated below, which was a big as the tire of a truck and is longer than a station wagon.

According to Anthony Martinez, a marine mammal scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the chief scientist on the research cruise:

“As the trawl net rose out of the water, I could see that we had something big in there … really big.”

The squid discovered by the researchers is significant because they are difficult to catch and little is known about them as a species. Scientists have known for some time that giant squid frequent the waters of the Gulf, Caribbean and Florida Keys because their remains have often been found in the stomachs of their natural predators. These giant squids can be as long as forty feet and are usually found in deep-water fisheries, such as off the coast of Spain and New Zealand.

The giant squid’s elusive nature and fearsome appearance have long made it a popular subject of legends and folk tales. Its popularity as an image continues today with references and depictions in literature, film, television, and video games. Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, fights a band of seven giant squid in Jules Verne’s, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a durable adventure tale form the 19th century.

The giant squid is enough to make anyone humble. The mysteries of the sea continue to marvel and astound and provide living proof that Shakespeare was right when he said:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, my dear Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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  1. Can't help but wonder what those natural predators might be. Sharks?