(University of Florida researcher Roger Portell injects preservative into a 25-foot-long giant squid Monday night; Credit for all photos: Jeff Gage)
Recreational fishermen on Monday found a rare 25-foot-long giant squid floating off the Florida coast, according to a University of Florida press release.
Robert Benz spotted the giant squid while fishing with friends Joey Asaro and Paul Peroulakis. They somehow managed to haul the enormous dying squid onto the back of their 23-foot boat.
"I thought we definitely need to bring it in, because no one's going to believe us if we don't," Benz was quoted as saying in the press release. "I didn’t want to leave it out there and just let the sharks eat it."
The huge squid, which later perished, was first brought to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Tequesta Field Laboratory in Palm Beach County. It was later collected by scientists from the University of Florida. It's now the only one of its kind in the collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History.
"It's so rare to get these specimens, and they're such dee-water animals that we don't know much about how they live," said John Slapcinsky, Florida Museum malacology collection manager. "This specimen provides an excellent opportunity to learn things about these creatures we couldn’t find out any other way."
It's possible that the giant squid died a natural death. These deep-ocean dwellers only reproduce once in their lifetime. After that, they often slowly die. Slapcinsky believes the squid was in that dying state of lethargy when the fishermen found it near the surface in 170 feet of water.
As huge as this squid is, members of the species can grow up to 60 feet long and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. They live a mysterious life in the ocean depths, so not much is known about their reproduction, ecology and life span.
Sightings have inspired myths about sea monsters and other wild tales. It's true that these animals can fight with large sperm whales, as the whales are their common predators.
"This is a pretty massive animal," Slapcinsky said. "It took about six people to move it, and it wasn’t light."
(University of Florida researchers Roger Portell and John Slapcinsky work Monday night to preserve the giant squid.)
You can see in the images that the giant squid is white with red skin. The redness comes from chromatophores, which are color-bearing cells. Squid can activate these cells, resulting in body color changes. By turning color on or off, or reducing its intensity, the squid can visually communicate with other squid, or camouflage themselves from whales and other predators.
Check out this grasping tentacle:
Above you can see the large suction cups on one of the two long grasping tentacles from the rare giant squid.
(This close-up shows the suction cups on one of the eight arms from the rare giant squid found floating near the surface about 12 miles off the coast of Jensen Beach Sunday.)
Until recently, no one had ever seen a giant squid alive in the squid's natural habitat. A Japanese film crew was the first to capture one on video, about 7 years ago.
At present, scientists are analyzing the Florida specimen, hoping to learn more about its DNA. The squid's body was injected with the chemical formalin before being submerged in more preservative.
"It looks nice; it’s still in fabulous shape and it’s big," Slapcinsky said. "It would be really cool to exhibit something like this, if it turns out that it preserves well enough and we can find a way to exhibit it so that it doesn’t damage the specimen."
In the coming weeks, he and his colleagues hope to determine the giant squid's sex and age. Museum invertebrate paleontologist Roger Portell said other researchers will be examining the DNA study results, hoping to determine if more than one species of giant squid exists.
"We don’t really have a good handle on the biogeography of these critters, so this will add to that knowledge base," Portell explained. "Because they are so rare, we have so few samples where we get a fresh specimen and can actually do genetic work."