Quest for the Giant Squid
by Gary Mangiacopra
In the 19th century the existence of the
legendary Norweigan Kraken was verified by stranded specimens of dead
or dying members of truly giant squid found off the Newfoundland coast.
But since their acceptance by science more than a century ago much is
still not known about the species, Architeuthis.
What is known about the giant squid is based upon
100 stranded specimens exmained in the last 400 years. But in recent
months, three giant squid have been netted off the New Zealand coast.
This situation has prompted Clyde F. E. Roper of the National Museum of
Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. to
actively search the ocean depths for a living 60 foot specimen.
Roper, 58, the world's foremost expert on giant
squid, is in charge of a forthcoming $5 million scientific expedition
to deep search the New Zealand seas for the elusive creatures. Watched
by a National Geographic Society television crew, Roper will make daily
descents in a four-man submersible to seek the hidden lair of the giant
This New Zealand locale was chosen because of
recent strandings and live captures of giant squid, according to data
compiled by fisheries biologist Ellen C. Forch during the past 15
years. Since 1984, commercial fishermen utilizing the Chatham Rise, a
rocky Texas-sized plateau half a mile deep in the southern portion off
the South Island, have occasionally hauled up from 1,000 to 4,000 foot
depths squid that had apparently been feeding on dense schools of fish.
But the three recent giant squid captures, two females and one male (20
feet long and caught at 1,000 feet), have ecologists wondering if deep
sea fishing might not be upsetting the diet and domain of the giant
squid and forcing them into shallower waters.
The Roper expedition will first use a 230-foot
fisheries vessel to make preliminary searchers for deep sea fishes and
densitities. Then they will track and listen for sperm whales as they
dive into the depths seeking giant squid for food. These "sea beagles"
may point to the hidden lairs of the giant squid.
Next Roper will send down a robot to inspect the
pinpointed area, followed by a personal inspection in a Johnson Sea
Link Submarine operated by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution
at Fort Pierce, Florida. With its robotic arms and underwater lights
and video cameras, this four-person craft can reach a depth of 3,000
The expedition is scheduled to begin sometime
between November of 1996 and February of 1997. The exact start date
will depend, as usual, on raising the necessary money for the hunt.