Credit: Edie Widder and Nathan Robinson

Old maps detailing waters roughly 160 km south east of New Orleans often depicted serpents and giant squids attacking sailors at their edges, with the warning “here there be monsters”. Today, rarely spotted, these animals are the source of much scientific curiosity.

A sea monster, drawn as a giant squid, in a 19th-century French edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Credit: Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville [Public domain]

On June 19, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration exploration mission captured rare footage of a giant squid with their underwater camera system Medusa. Now, the eerie footage of a giant squid filmed for the first time in US waters has the scientific world in a tizzy.

Calculated to be between 10 feet to 12 feet the juvenile giant squid was filmed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on their Journey into Midnight mission which is investigating the deep, dark areas of the Gulf of Mexico below 3,800 feet.

Describing the experience in a mission log update Sönke Johnsen, a biology professor at Duke University and Edie Widder, marine biologist and oceanographer, wrote: “On Wednesday, Nathan started looking at the downloaded videos. He found the usual shrimp and other small animals that we had been seeing on the first four deployments. And then he saw it, a large tubular animal off on the corner of the screen, looking as if it was hunting the e-jelly. The next short video showed the same thing. Then, in the third video, the tubular animal revealed an enormous set of arms and tentacles coming in to attack the e-jelly.”

E-jelly is a sort of decoy electronic jellyfish that works as a lure for marine animals. It was this e-jelly that the giant squid mistook for food.

Researchers (left to right) Nathan Robinson, Sonke Johnsen, Tracey Sutton, Nick Allen, Edie Widder and Megan McCall gather around to watch the squid video. Credit: Danté Fenolio/NOAA

Instead of shining bright light into the underwater darkness, the Medusa uses red light that doesn’t scare off most deep-sea animals. “We found the squid after only five Medusa deployments, despite the fact that thousands of ROV [remotely operated underwater vehicle] and submersible dives in the Gulf of Mexico have not done so,” wrote the researchers. “This suggests that the animal does not like the bright lights of ROVs and that stealth monitoring of the sort possible with the Medusa can allow us to see what has never been seen before.”

According to Smithsonian zoologist Dr Clyde Roper, who is often called the first authority on the animal, the largest giant squid ever recorded by scientists was almost 43 feet. “Most of what we know comes from dead carcasses [of giant squid] that floated to the surface and were found by fishermen,” Roper wrote in a blog of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The first footage of the giant in its natural habitat was recorded in 2012 off the coast of Japan. Edie Widder had also been on that team.


While the previous videos captured the giant squid in alive in its natural habitat, one of the earliest videos of the marine animal, fished up by accident, was filmed by a fishing crew near Antarctica. The giant squid was hauled out of sea by the crew as they looked for Antarctic sea bass.