Quirks & Quarks

Super rare deep sea squid spotted in Australian waters for the first time

Magnapinna, or bigfin squid, is the size of a hotdog bun, but with filaments up to 7 metres long.

Magnapinna, or bigfin squid, is the size of a hotdog bun, but with filaments up to 7 metres long.

Researchers spotted five bigfin squid swimming in the Great Australian Bight, the first time these mysterious animals had been seen in Australian waters. (Deborah Osterhage/Hugh MacIntosh)

Researchers surveying the deep sea around Australia have found five ultra rare bigfin squid in an area known as the Great Australian Bight.

The sightings, some of which lasted for several minutes, shed insight on the size, behaviour, and distribution of these mysterious animals, which have only been documented a dozen times before, and never in Australian waters.

The discovery was made during a research mission in 2017. The team, including Canadian researcher Hugh MacIntosh, spotted the bigfin squid while monitoring the video feed of a remote operated vehicle (ROV) exploring 3000 metres below the surface.

"All of a sudden, out of the gloom comes this squid with these huge long tentacles, kind of this wispy, strange thing. And we all kind of yelled, get the ROV, stop, stop, stop!" MacIntosh told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald.

The mission was part of a large-scale research project called the Great Australian Bight Deepwater Marine Program. Over four years, scientists surveyed this part of the ocean using ROVs, nets, and cameras. The goal was to develop a baseline knowledge of the geology and biology in the area, which stretches over 45,000 square kilometres and runs up to 6000 metres deep.

Researchers used lasers attached to the ROV to calculate that the squid’s tentacles are about 11 times longer than their body length. They believe the squid use these tentacles to trawl the sea floor for food. (Hugh MacIntosh)

"All of Australia's deep sea is relatively unexplored compared to areas like the North Atlantic or the North Pacific," said MacIntosh. "And the Great Australian Bight was sort of one of the first areas that we've been able to do this large scale exploration."

In total, the team found over 1300 species of fishes and invertebrates, 30 per cent of which are new to science. The bigfin sightings were recently described in the journal PLOS One.

Hugh MacIntosh is a Research Associate of Museums Victoria in Melbourne Australia. You can hear his conversation with Bob McDonald at the link above.


Produced and written by Amanda Buckiewicz

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