The Anomalist



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 squid.

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 feet.

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. Stay tuned.