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::: TASMANIAN STORIES

 

Fact or fantasy? Part II

The giant squid’s territory is in the depths of the ocean, up to 500m below the surface of the ocean, in a world that is as foreign and deadly to us as is the vacuum of space.

The giant squid is similar to other species of squid. It has a mantle, which is where its internal organs are found. Along the length of the mantle is a funnel, used for expelling waste, water, and for locomotion — the squid ejects water through the funnel to push it along the water.

the edges of the suckers have a jagged set of ‘teeth’ to help the squid grasp prey

The giant squid has eight arms, each containing several suckers; to make the suckers even more interesting, the edges of the suckers have a jagged set of ‘teeth’ to help the squid grasp prey.

The giant squid also has two longer feeding tentacles used to push food into the squid’s mouth, which resembles a parrot’s beak. It also can squirt ink to confuse predators, matching its smaller cousins’ capability.


The protruding beak of a giant squid distorted by the lack of pressure as it was forced to the surface

The giant squid inhabits that nether region of the ocean that is hundreds of metres below the surface, but not at the bottom of the ocean. It, as with other squid, does not live on the ocean floor, as an octopus does, but lives instead between the surface and the bottom, a state easily maintained by its natural buoyancy. Its entire physical makeup is suited specifically to this environment. The main reason that the giant squid has been found dead and washed up on shore is most likely because of cold water meeting warm water.

The giant squid lives in cold water that can get trapped above a layer of warm water. This pushes the poor creature to the surface. The squid’s natural buoyancy makes it difficult for it to sink beneath this warm water, and I imagine the hostile surface area weakens the giant squid to a point of desperation — and maybe death.

The hunt for giant squid

There have been numerous attempts to study giant squid in its natural environment. Two expeditions have been sent to Kaikoura Canyon, off of New Zealand, the first in 1997, and the second in February and March, 1999. Both of these expeditions were under the leadership of Dr Clyde Roper from the Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC, probably the world’s leading expert on the giant squid.

There have been numerous attempts to study giant squid in its natural environment

The Kairkoura Canyon is considered a favorable spot for finding the giant squid because several specimens have been found by fishermen in the area, and sperm whales also like to hunt in the area — a good indication as sperm whales feed on giant squid.

While neither expedition was able to capture images of the giant squid, neither trip was considered a failure due to the other information the scientists were able to find, and the observations they were able to make. In addition, during the trip in 1999, Dr. Roper was able to examine a captured, dead giant squid that was in very good shape, something that doesn’t always happen when squid are caught up in fishing nets as the creatures are very fragile.

Scientists have tried attaching video cameras to whales before they begin their hunting dives. Innovative — but the cameras tend to get knocked off by other whales.

Robotic submersibles have also been used. Unfortunately, all of these efforts have not succeeded yet in seeing a giant squid in its natural habitat. ¶

Honorary Tasmanian Shelley Powers is also our Technical Architect and has provided much input to the background work for Leatherwood Online.

 

MYTH OR MONSTER? Part I Part II FACTS & FANTASIES Part I Part II RAISING A STINK Click here

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