Catch of the week honors belong to three fishermen who recovered a barely-living 25-foot giant squid off Florida on Monday, and to University of Florida researchers who have collected the remarkable specimen for study and possible display.
Giant squid, long depicted as sea monsters and legendary for their epic battles against predatory sperm whales, reside largely in the ocean's light-less depths. Whole specimens are incredibly rare.
"It's so rare to get these specimens and they're such deep-water animals that we don't know much about how they live," said John Slapcinsky, collection manager at the university-run Florida Museum of Natural History. "This specimen provides an excellent opportunity to learn things about these creatures we couldn't find out any other way."
The squid was discovered floating at the surface by Robert Benz, Joey Asaro and Paul Peroulakis at about 11 a.m. Monday. They had been fishing aboard a 23-foot boat and teamed to carefully haul the colossal cephalopod aboard.
"I thought we definitely need to bring it in, because no one's going to believe us if we don't," Benz said in a news release issued by the university. "I didn't want to leave it out there and just let the sharks eat it." (Benz also appears in the WPTV News video posted below.)
Giant squid, or Architeuthis dux, can measure 60 feet long and weigh 1,000-plus pounds. They reproduce only once, after which they can become lethargic and slowly perish. That might have been the case with this particular squid.
Discovery News Daily points out that until fairly recently, no one had ever seen a giant squid alive in its natural habitat. That changed seven years ago, after a Japanese film crew capture one on video.
Extreme care is going into preserving the specimen picked up Monday. "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."
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission scientists have gathered genetic samples and an effort will be made to determine its sex and age. Scientists also will attempt to determine whether there might be more than one species of giant squid.
"We don't really have a good handle on the biogeography of these critters, so this will add to that knowledge base," explained Roger Portell, a museum paleontologist. "Because they are so rare, we have so few samples where we get a fresh specimen and can actually do genetic work."
As for Benz and his fellow anglers, their work is done, but the memories of their catch will last a lifetime.
-- Top image shows University of Florida scientist Roger Portell taking a sample from a giant squid discovered by anglers Monday off Florida. Second image shows toothed cups on one of the creature's arms. Credit: Jeff Gage