~ Giant Squid Expedition - History ~

The giant squid remains an enigma. It has been called the last certified sea monster from pre-scientific times and the last big mystery of the ocean. Growing up to an enormous 60 feet in length, the giant squid has captivated people's imaginations for centuries, generating myths and mysteries. What little we know about Architeuthis has come from a limited number of specimens that have been found washed ashore or brought up in fishermen's nets, dead or dying. No one has seen this magnificent creature alive in its own habitat.

Map of Kaikoura and Kaikoura Peninsula

In February-March 1999, scientists from the United States and New Zealand will collaborate in all aspects of an expedition to locate the world's largest invertebrate, the giant squid (Architeuthis). The expedition is scheduled for a period of thirty days off the coast of Kaikoura, New Zealand. The objective is a collaborative exploration and photo documentation of the ecosystem of the Kaikoura Canyon and its biodiversity. Particular emphasis will be placed on the potential resources of fish and invertebrates, including the squids and octopuses, of which the giant squid (Architeuthis) is a major focus. A total of eight giant squid were reported from deep sea fishing vessels in New Zealand in 1998. This give us confidence that we will be looking in the right place.

Over the years, I have gradually constructed a latticework picture of the biology and distribution of the giant squid based on a number of beach strandings, net captures and remains found in the stomachs of sperm whales. Sperm whales feed almost exclusively on all kinds of squids, including Architeuthis. Utilizing this research data, I have concluded that sperm whales can be used as "guide dogs" to lead scientists to the giant squid's natural habitat where they can be studied first hand. Advances in deep-sea technology have finally made it possible to venture to the great depths that Architeuthis calls home.

The first expedition was conducted in the summer of 1996 in the Azores Islands. The expedition was designed specifically to discover the deep sea haunts of giant wquid and to film this elusive creature. The National Geographic Television Crittercam (a high sensitivity video camera and instrument package) was successfully deployed onto sperm whales for the first time. This research provided much new information about behavior and socialization in both adult and juvenile whales, as well as useful data for subsequent research to find giant squid. The 1998 National Geographic video, "Sea Monster: Search for the Giant Squid," documents this research.

The second expedition was conducted in February-March 1997, with explorations in Kaikoura Canyon, New Zealand. This phase consisted of three approaches: exploration with an unmanned autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), the ODYSSEY II, deployment of the Crittercam onto sperm whales, and deployment of a "ropecam" (tethered video camera with automatic light and fish-bait chumming mechanisms).

autonomous underwater vehicle autonomous underwater vehicle in action

The AUV portion was an exciting partnership with Dr. James Bellingham of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sea Grant Program, funded by the Office of Naval Research. The AUV descended to depths of 750 meters for up to three hours per dive with the Crittercam mounted in its nose. The National Geographic Committee on Research and Exploration, National Geographic Television and International Paper's Carter Holt Harvey of New Zealand funded the research. Valuable data and images were collected which will support Phase Three.

Our third expedition in February-March 1999 will attempt to capture video footage of giant squid in the wild. In addition to information on giant squid, the Deep Sea/Giant Squid Expedition will yield a wealth of data on the Kaikoura Canyon deep ocean fauna, ecosystems and geological formations. And, it will allow us to test new instruments, such as sonar, bioluminescent lure and video imaging equipment, at tremendous depths.

Colleagues in this research include Dr. Gene Feldman, biological oceanographer from NASA, and Dr. Bernard Brennan, Cornell University Bioacoustics Laboratory. The Deep Sea/Giant Squid Expedition is designed as a multi-disciplinary, multinational probe into the abyssal depths of inner space - the ocean. With colleagues from research institutions in the United States and New Zealand, we will explore the Kaikoura Canyon deep-sea ecosystem off the coast of New Zealand. Sperm whales are abundant there year-round, occupying individual feeding territories where their major prey, squids, including Architeuthis, exist in the Canyon.

Based on my research over the last four years, I believe our chances of seeing a giant squid alive in its natural habitat are very encouraging. The expedition will use the Deep Rover submersible, chartered from Nuytco Research, Ltd. of British Columbia, to carry one person at a time to depths of 900 m. The plan is to ship the submersible to New Zealand for a 30-day operational period in Kaikoura Canyon off the South Island using a New Zealand research vessel, the Kaharoa, as the sub's support ship.

Using Deep Rover, the scientists will remotely "follow" sperm whales near their feeding domains deep in the Canyon by listening to their vocalizations. Along with our associates at Whale Watch Kaikoura, we hope to discover how the whales forage, locate and capture their cephalopod prey.

Tune in for an exciting ride!

C.F.E.R.

 


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