First Ever Footage of Giant Squid in U.S. Waters Captured by Scientists

Scientists have captured astonishing footage of a giant squid in the Gulf of Mexico, around 100 miles southeast of New Orleans, in what is just the second time that the creature has been filmed in its natural deep sea habitat—and the first in U.S. waters.

The footage was taken during a deep ocean expedition funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called "Journey Into Midnight" using a camera system known as MEDUSA.

This technology uses red light to illuminate deep ocean environments without scaring off the animals that live there. These creatures are very sensitive to light but they often cannot see in the red spectrum. The system is also equipped with a lure designed to mimic a bioluminescent jellyfish which can attract larger predators, such as giant squid.

MEDUSA was used to capture the only other footage of a giant squid in its deep sea home during an expedition in Japanese waters conducted by scientists in 2012.

The video clip from the latest expedition which has been released by the NOAA—shot at a depth of 2,490 feet—shows a giant squid estimated to be between 10 and 12 feet long emerging from the inky blackness, briefly touching the lure with its long tentacles before disappearing again into the abyss.

"You feel very alive,"Nathan Robinson, one of the scientists aboard the expedition said in a statement, describing the moment that he saw the footage. "There's something instinctual about these animals that captures the imagination of everyone—the wonder that there are these huge animals out there on our planet that we know so little about, and that we've only caught on camera a couple of times."

After capturing the footage, the expedition scientists sent it to a NOAA squid specialist to confirm that the creature was actually a true giant squid—or in other words, that it belonged to the genus (a group of species) Architeuthis.

"The benchmark is taxonomy, rather than size—it's either genetically a giant squid or not," Michael Vecchione, the squid specialist, said in a statement. "People will refer to other things as giant squids, but cephalopod biologists don't."

While giant squids are not necessarily rare animals, our knowledge of them is relatively limited because they are extremely hard to spot in their natural environment. As a result, most of what we know about them stems from the study of dead specimens, which are sometimes found washed up on the shore in certain parts of the world.

In this context, live footage of a giant squid in its deep sea home carries great scientific importance, casting new light on the behavior of these fascinating creatures. For example, the latest video suggests that they are very active predators which rely primarily on visuals when hunting.

"In the video, we could clearly see that it was visually tracking the electronic jellyfish, which was very exciting to be able to observe," Edie Widder, developer of the MEDUSA technology, said in the statement.

Giant squid can grow up to a staggering 43 feet in length and the creatures boast several unusual characteristics.

"It's got eight writhing arms and two slashing tentacles," Widder told The Washington Post. "It has the largest eye of any animal we know of, it's got a beak that can rip flesh. It has a jet propulsion system that can go backwards and forwards, blue blood, and three hearts. It's an amazing, amazing life form we know almost nothing about."

Video evidence of these creatures is very rare. Aside from the two clips showing a giant squid in its natural deep-sea environment, only one other example exists: footage of a specimen captured by a diver in the shallower waters of Japan's Toyama Bay on Christmas Eve, 2015.

The first photos of a giant squid in its natural habitat, meanwhile, were snapped in 2004 by a team of Japanese scientists.

giant squid
A screenshot taken from the first ever footage of a giant squid captured in U.S. waters. Edie Widder / Nathan Robinson/NOAA