Giant 240-Pound Squid and Glow-in-the-Dark Sharks Caught by Researchers

Researchers have caught a rare giant squid and several glow-in-the-dark sharks in the waters off New Zealand, the country's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) said.

An NIWA team was on an expedition to survey New Zealand's most valuable commercial fish species, the hoki, in the Chatham Rise—a large area of ocean east of the country—when they made an unexpected find.

On the morning of January 21, the crew aboard the Tangaroa research vessel pulled up a trawl net from a depth of 1,450 feet, only to discover that they had inadvertently caught a giant squid.

According to voyage leader Darren Stevens, the squid measured more than 13 feet in length and weighed around 240 pounds. It reportedly took six people to lift the squid onto a tarpaulin, even though he described it as being "on the smallish side."

The elusive giant squid is found around the world. However, they are rarely seen, let alone caught, given that they live deep underwater. In fact, most of what we know about these huge animals comes from dead carcasses that have washed ashore, so finding a specimen in their fishing net was particularly exciting for the researchers.

Despite their rarity, Stevens said that the waters off New Zealand appear to be somewhat of a hotspot for the animals. NIWA researchers catch a giant squid about once every ten years.

"New Zealand is kind of the giant squid capital of the world—anywhere else a giant squid is caught in a net would be a massive deal. But there's been a few caught off New Zealand," Stevens said in a statement.

giant squid
The giant squid caught by NIWA researchers. Brit Finucci, NIWA

"It's only the second one I've ever seen. I've been on about 40 trips on Tangaroa, and most surveys are about a month, and I've only ever seen two. That's pretty rare," he said.

After catching the animal, the team sent scientifically valuable parts of the specimen—including the eyes, head, stomach and reproductive organs—to Ryan Howard, a squid researcher at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, for further examination.

"We took the stomach because virtually nothing is known about a giant squid's diet because every time people seem to catch one, there's very rarely anything in their stomachs," Stevens said.

The eyes—the largest in the animal kingdom—were kept because they could provide insights into the secretive lives of these giant creatures.

seal shark, lucifer dogfish
Seal shark (left) and lucifer dogfish (right.) J. Mallefet FNRS, Belgium

"Getting two giant squid eyes is apparently enough for a scientific paper. They're really rare, and you need a fresh one. So it was a really unique set of circumstances to get two fresh eyes," Stevens said.

Also on the voyage, Jérôme Mallefet from the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium, was able to capture and photograph several glow-in-the-dark, or bioluminescent, sharks.

The researcher set up a darkroom on the vessel so he could take images of the sharks producing light. The specimens represented three species—the southern lantern shark, Lucifer dogfish and seal shark.

"I was so happy. I was dreaming to get pictures of bioluminescent sharks [on the voyage] and I got them," he said in a statement.