As It Happens

Scientists capture video of rare giant squid for the first time in U.S. waters

Marine biologist Nathan Robinson says his 'heart just stopped' the moment he realized his team's underwater camera may have captured images of the elusive giant squid.

Researchers say it's only the second time the elusive creature has been recorded in its natural habitat

The video of the rare giant squid was recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA)

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Until it happened, the video was mind-numbingly dull — just hours of a still frame, pointing out into the murky ocean deep.

But then, finally, something flashed across the screen.

"All of a sudden, on the left hand side of the screen, very faintly, you see this tentacle-shaped thing kind of creep in," marine biologist Nathan Robinson told As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner. 

"As all those tentacles peel back, I had that kind of dawning realization that we might be seeing something that's only been seen a few times before in history — and it was a giant squid."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it's only the second time a living giant squid has been captured on video in its natural habitat.

'I jumped out of my chair'

Robinson made the discovery earlier this month while aboard a research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico on an expedition funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He was tasked with combing through hours and hours of continuous video from the research team's deep sea underwater camera called the Medusa, which has a ring of LED lights that mimic a jellyfish and lures in the animals.

When the squid first crossed the screen — about 120 hours into the footage — Robinson said his "heart just stopped" as he started to make sense of what the camera may have captured.

He quickly called to his colleague, Edie Widder, who designed the Medusa.

"I jumped up out of my chair," Robinson said. "I honestly don't think I said anything. I think I just gestured 'come over here' — with probably a bit of a wild glare."

Nathan Robinson, right, and his colleague Edie Widder with the special Medusa underwater camera that captured the video of the giant squid. (Megan McCall)

When the creature first appeared it vanished quickly. But two or three minutes later, lured in again by the glowing camera, Robinson got a better look at the mythical cephalopod's long, thin tentacles.

"They are, indeed, one of the largest animals on this planet. But they are also one of the least known," Robinson said.

He explained that the squids have inspired many stories and legends, but that most people have only seen dead bodies that have washed ashore around the world.

"Getting footage of these animals in their natural environment — and alive — it's like lightning striking."

Robinson estimates the squid is about three to four metres in length, which would make it a juvenile of its species. Adult giant squids can grow up to 14 metres in length.

Robinson points out the first time was in Japan, when Widder captured images of the creature using the same Medusa camera.

He hopes the video will help scientists better understand and protect these mysterious deep sea creatures.

"One of the best ways to protect something is to understand it. People want to protect what they know," Robinson said. 

"So when we start to unravel the mysteries of these habitats [and] we start to explore them, we can: a) get people excited, but: b) we can start to get the necessary information to start figuring out how to protect them."

Written by Katie Geleff and John McGill. Produced by Katie Geleff.