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How the giant squid was finally caught on film [video]

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Yesterday, the internet was all abuzz over the release of the first ever live video of the mysterious giant squid in its native habitat. But what you didn't hear about was that the "breakthrough" discovery was made possible by a series of innovative new technologies that's already revolutionizing the field of deep sea exploration.

One of the main challenges for scientists who study animals in the wild is that the mere necessary act of observing can ruin everything. That's why zoologists use unobtrusive techniques like hidden cameras to document the candid behavior of elusive species, such as tigers or grizzly bears. In the case of the giant squid or Architeuthis, you've got a creature that appears to be not only extremely shy, but also happens to reside along some of the deepest depths of the ocean, as far down as 1,000 meters below sea level.

Sightings of the 60-foot long, one-ton behemoth are so rare that much of the public's understanding of it has been shaped by tales of folklore, which often depict the massive cephalopods as having tentacles powerful enough to wrestle sperm whales when in fact it's the whales that are known to hunt the squids as prey. In Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick, a glimpse of a giant squid even invoked a kind of terrifying superstition for whalers, since legend had it that few whaling ships ever returned safely after a chance encounter with the mythical beast.

Prior to the recent footage, imagery of a live giant squid has only been captured twice in 2004 and 2006, both times by Japanese zoologist Tsunemi Kubodera, who led the expedition to film the deep-sea monster in its natural state. This time around he enlisted the help of Florida-based oceanographer Edith Widder to build a bio-luminescent lure that can draw the cautious creature toward the camera. What she came up with was a decoy comprised of 16 blue lights that swirled like a pinwheel, a design meant to impersonate a deep-sea jellyfish. This was combined with the use of near-infrared light for unobtrusive search visibility since deep-sea creatures aren't able to detect its glow.

And after 55 dive attempts and hundreds of hours of research, Kubodera finally found what he was looking for this past summer. Here's his account, as reported by the Toronto Star:

In July, using a submersible equipped with the near-infrared beams, Kubodera sank below the surface. When a hazy outline appeared on the on-board camera, the crew risked turning on the bright white beams — and were able to film several minutes of an Architeuthis just metres away.

“It was stunning. I couldn’t have dreamt that it would be so beautiful,” Kubodera, a zoologist, told Reuters.

The squid in question was spotted at about 900 meters below the surface and described as about 9 feet long, though missing its two longest tentacles. So far, Japan's broadcasting service NHK and the Discovery Channel, which funded the expedition, have only provided a few seconds of "sneak peak" footage of the magnificent specimen that possesses eyes as big as a person's head. The rest of the footage will be revealed on Jan. 27 at 8 p.m on the Discovery Channel as part of its special on the quest to find the legendary creature.

(via Toronto Star)

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— By on January 8, 2013, 8:15 PM PST

Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure