Looming out of the inky blackness of the deep sea waters - an enormous tentacled creature is locked in a life or death struggle with a mighty sperm whale. This classic Jules Verne-like image of a legendary sea-monster is still our most common image of one of the least known denizens of the deep - the giant squid. Oceans Campaigner Alejandro writes from the Esperanza.
How a live giant squid may look
Found most frequently in the south east Pacific Ocean, these
remarkable creatures also live in the north Atlantic, which makes
the well-preserved deep seas around the Azores an excellent place
to look for them. Although we have only a short time to explore,
and the giant squid is notoriously elusive, in our hearts we can't
help believing that our newly-resurrected drop-camera might capture
at least a glimpse as it scans the seamount at depths of up to 800
metres. Of course our heads tell us not to hold out too much
Giant squid are the second largest invertebrates on earth,
exceeded in size only by their recently discovered close relative,
the colossal squid (an estimated 14 metres long), and are one of
the biggest predators. The largest giant squid are female and grow
to 13 metres, although only just over two metres of this is the
body (or mantle). The rest is tentacles! Males are slightly smaller
at 10 metres.
A giant mystery
But if they are so big, why don't we know much more about them?
The available information is fragmentary, based on dead or dying
animals that have been washed ashore or captured in trawl nets. We
do know that they possess the second largest eyes of any living
creature (second only to - you've guessed it, it's colossal
cousin), live at depths of between 200 and 4,000 metres, and belong
to the same family as the octopus and cuttlefish.
Although many expeditions have set out in search of these ocean
giants, only one has successfully captured images of them in the
wild. In 2004 Japanese scientists used sperm whales, which love to
feed on giant squid, as guides. They snapped more than 500
extraordinary images of one of the massive cephalopods at a depth
of 800 metres, before it broke free after snagging itself on a
hook. They also recovered one of its tentacles, severed during the
Save the squid?
As commercial fishing operations
empty our coastal waters of fish and head out to
bottom-trawl the high-seas to fish at ever greater depths, they
are literally removing entire populations of deep water fish.
In order to ensure that healthy populations survive in our
oceans we need to protect the wider marine environment as a whole.
That's why we urgently need
marine reserves, areas similar to national parks on land, which
are off limits to all forms of exploitation - to give the seas time
to recover. Otherwise the treasures of our oceans - the amazing
giant squid among them - could all too soon be a thing of the
Stop the clock on bottom trawling before it's too late