Though humans have been aware of giant squids' existence for thousands of years—Pliny the Elder wrote of one in his Natural History (the creature was said to have 30 foot-long arms and a head "as big as a cask") and ancient seafarers told tales of kraken, wrathful monsters that emerged from the deep to crush and swallow ships whole—it wasn't until last year that one of the elusive animals was recorded live.
Needless to say, studying their behavior has been near impossible. The first hard evidence of giant squids came in the 1800s, when Professor Japetus Steenstrup of Denmark identified a carcass washed ashore. But with the advent of more recent technologies, scientists have grappled with recording the beasts as they moved about in their murky, deep ocean environments. In 2004, a Japanese team of scientists made a breakthrough when they managed to photograph one at nearly 3,000 feet beneath the North Pacific.
But it took Edith Widden, a clever oceanographer-turned-inventor, to finally capture live footage of a giant squid in 2012. Widder used one of the ocean’s most fascinating defense mechanisms—as well as unobtrusive observation techniques—to attract and film her tentacled subjects, which she revealed in a recent TED Talk, below.
With silent, battery-operated cameras (many deep-sea submersibles are loud, alerting the über-sensitive species to their presence) attached to a floating 2,000-foot-long wire, Widder and her team mimicked the bioluminescent pinwheel patterns of the Atolla Jellyfish using a false blue light. The jellies use their miraculous adaptation to light up when a fish captures them, a last-ditch effort to attract nearby predators—like giant squid—who might feed on their captor. The squids in Widder’s video are believed to be doing just that, reaching their tentacles just beyond the lights, where the presumed fish might be munching on the jelly.
Widder takes the opportunity to call for more resources for ocean exploration—a NASA-of-the-sea, so to speak—saying that only 5% of the ocean has been explored. When you consider that such gigantic predators have remained hidden from us for so long, it begs the question: What other fantastical creatures lurk in the depths of our fathomless seas?