Australia is home to all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures, and scientists have found another peculiar resident.
- Five bigfin squid have been spotted in the Great Australian Bight off the west coast of South Australia
- The squid can live more than 4,500m below the ocean surface and have long, sticky, spaghetti-like threads
- Prior to these new sightings, only a dozen blacktip squid had been reported worldwide.
An elusive squid with long spaghetti-like strands hiding in the deep ocean was first spotted in Australian waters.
Researchers from CSIRO and Museums Victoria filmed five big fin squid in the Great Australian Bight, some more than 3,000 meters below the ocean’s surface.
Prior to these sightings, published today in PLOS One magazine, the mysterious creatures had only been reported a dozen times worldwide and never in Australian waters.
Study lead author Deborah Osterhage, CSIRO marine ecologist at the time, recalls reviewing footage recorded by the cameras towed behind the RV Investigator in 2015 and seeing her first big fin squid.
“As I was looking at the pictures and videos, I suddenly saw this squid and I immediately knew what it was because I’m a bit of a deep-sea fanatic,” said Ms. Osterhage.
“It had those big fins, those very long, thin strands and that kind of elbow shape.
Then he noticed a second giant fin squid in the footage.
Bigfin squid have, as the name suggests, large fins that flap in a smooth, wavy motion.
But they also sport thin, sticky threads, up to 8 meters long, which dangle from the ends of their arms and relatively short tentacles. The “joint” may look like an elbow.
These spaghetti-like strands are unique to bigfin squid.
“Like going to a bar”
To confirm that she had actually caught a giant squid in a movie, Ms. Osterhage sent a footage to a person she scientifically named the bigfin squid family Magnapinnidae in 1998: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History zoologist Mike Vecchione.
He confirmed the sightings, which he said were not unexpected: “If you look long enough in any of the deep-water areas, aside from perhaps the poles, sooner or later you’ll find big fins.”
But what really surprised him came from footage taken during a 2017 RV Investigator survey using a remote-controlled underwater robot.
Not only did the trip find three other bigfin squid, but they all seemed to congregate in more or less the same place at the same time – a behavior never before seen in animals.
Why they could meet at that point, Dr. Vecchione is not sure. It is possible that currents in the area swirl them together in that location.
They can also come together to feed or even reproduce.
“We don’t know how they reproduce – we have no idea,” he said.
“But we have begun to find evidence that some animals that swim in deep waters come together and form reproductive aggregations.
Wrapping spaghetti-like threads
The very few specimens of giant fin squid we have have been washed up on beaches, found in the stomach of a larger animal, or captured.
But biologists have been able to deduce from these specimens that those long spaghetti-like threads are covered with microscopic suckers.
“This makes them incredibly sticky. If something hits us, it will stick, like fly paper or a spider’s web,” said Dr.
“You can see in this footage that when they come across pieces of the submarine, they seem to have a hard time letting go.”
The new footage also showed how bigfin squid move in their strands.
“They wrap them in very tight coils, which is what makes them appear, so when they swim away, they don’t drag 20 feet of spaghetti behind them,” said Dr. Vecchione.
The rarely seen creature was just one of nearly 900 species discovered by the RV Investigator that were new to the Great Australian Bight, along with nearly 300 species new to science, Ms. Osterhage said.