Edie Widder: DNews Gamechanger of the Month
What has eight arms with hundreds of suckers, eyes the size of grapefruit and a razor-sharp beak? A giant squid! A team of scientists and the Discovery Channel shot footage of this notoriously elusive creature in action. Click ahead for more squidly fun.
Giant squid have captured, and terrified, the seafaring imagination for centuries. This illustration recreates a giant squid observed off Tenerife in November of 1861.
This giant squid was collected by NOAA researchers off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The largest invertebrate on Earth, the giant squid is just plain big -- the largest ever found was 59 feet (18 meters) long.
The only squid bigger than a giant is the colossal squid. Captain John Bennett examines the world's first intact adult male colossal squid in 2007 in the Ross Sea, near Antarctica. The squid was about 33 feet (10 meters) long. Check out those suckers!
These two female giant squid were found off Luarca, Spain. For an idea of the size of these creatures, note the gloved hand in the upper-left.
Alien autopsy? Nope. It's one of the Luarca squid from the previous slide, undergoing an examination by Spanish scientists.
Here's a giant squid measuring about 28 feet (9 meters), on display at London's Natural History Museum. This creature was caught in March of 2004, at a depth of 722 feet (220 meters), off the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.
A cat strolls past a giant squid in January 2005 in Newport Beach, Calif. That winter hundreds of 3- to 4-foot-long (0.9 to 1.2 meter) squid washed up along the Southern California coast. One theory holds that they ran ashore while chasing grunion.
This is another shot of a squid from the Newport Beach, Calif. wash-up. Giant squid eyes look so human because they’re structured much like human eyes are.
It may look big in the photo, but this larval squid is just 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) long and was photographed through a microscope by Russ Hopcroft, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The humboldt, or jumbo, squid is a carnivorous marine invertebrate with a lifespan of only 1-2 years. But it makes hay while the sun shines on its short life: In that time, it can grow to 4 feet (1.2 meters) long.
We may know it better as calamari, the familiar appetizer, but its proper name is common market squid. This adult market squid was photographed off La Jolla Shores Beach in La Jolla, Calif.
This adult jumbo squid was caught near the Channel Islands by a squid jig aboard an NOAA research ship in 2007. Its tentacles are wrapped around the jig that was used to catch it, which worked by attracting the squid to its glowing yellow plastic.
This is a closer look at the 2007 Channel Islands squid. Its telltale large eyes allow the creature to see in the very low light that permeates its deep underwater habitat.
A squid's razor-sharp beak is a merciless weapon against its prey, allowing it to chomp tasty bites out of its victims. Here we see a close-up of a Caribbean reef squid's beak.
What’s the best way to explore the dark secrets of the deep ocean? With the lights off.
And from the dark, marine biologist Edie Widder has brought amazing discoveries to light. She is our gamechanger for January here at Discovery News as we launch a new feature this year focusing on people who have stimulated our curiosity.
Widder’s deep-sea observation system, called Eye-in-the-Sea, helped capture breath-taking, unprecedented video footage of the giant squid (Architeuthis dux), an elusive creature previously photographed alive only once in 2004.
As a submersible diver she questioned just how much she was missing by plunging into the depths of the ocean with the lights blaring.
“The first deep dive I made was in the single-person submersible Wasp. When I turned out the lights and saw all the bioluminescence that seemed to be everywhere I looked, I was hooked. The experience changed the course of my career,” she told NOAA Ocean Explorer.
She had started her career with a Ph.D in neurobiology, intending to get inside the heads of marine animals. To explore her interest in bioluminescence, she attached red lights to cameras that could record and measure dim lights. The red lights are virtually undetectable to deep-sea organisms, which have evolved in the dark to detect the blue-green flashes of bioluminescence. With these tools she learned of the habits of those creatures most familiar with lighting the dark.
One particular type of jellyfish would light up when attacked and Widder theorized the bioluminescent fireworks display was an act to attract bigger predators to eat the attacker.
If the food chain follows with this type of jellyfish sounding the visual alarm and bringing in bigger and bigger predators, with each larger predator disturbing the water column more and causing even greater displays of bioluminesence, what happens when a video camera mimicking the attacked biolumenescent spectacle of the jellyfish is dangled 2,300 feet deep from a buoy off Japan’s Ogasawara Islands, a known hunting region for the giant squid?
Exactly what you hope for.
And while the videos she and her team of oceanographers have captured give us a peek into the behavior of these mysterious deep predators, many more questions about the giant squid remain to be answered.
Gamechangers like Widder help us all see the mysteries of our planet in a new light.
As she reported to NOAA Ocean Explorer: “I love learning new things and I love exploring. Those would be rewards enough, but the icing on the cake is the amazing light show I see every time I make a dive in a submersible and turn out the lights. It still thrills me.”
IMAGE: Edie Widder (Courtesy of NOAA)