Dr. Edie Widder did it again! With her colleague, Dr. Nathan Robinson, Edie used her MEDUSA camera platform to capture video of a live giant squid deep in the Gulf of Mexico during a recent NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research-supported cruise. This is the first recording of a live giant squid in the Gulf of Mexico (Atlantic Ocean, for that matter), and only the second such filming ever. Of course, the first was done by none other than… Dr. Widder, who also captured the first-ever footage of a live giant squid in the waters off Japan. The research cruise, entitled “Journey into Midnight: Life and Light Below the Twilight Zone,” was led by Dr. Sönke Johnsen of Duke University. Please read Sönke’s story here. Regarding DEEPEND, five of the twelve scientists onboard were DEEPENDers, including Co-PIs Tammy Frank, Heather Judkins, Heather Bracken-Grissom, Danté Fenolio, and DEEPEND Director/PI Tracey Sutton. Dr. Heather Judkins was first to identify the animal in the video as a giant squid, with this diagnosis later confirmed by DEEPEND Co-PI Dr. Michael Vecchione. Adding to the DEEPEND vibe was the fact that the cruise was conducted on the R/V Point Sur (University of Southern Mississippi, operated by LUMCON), on which all of the DEEPEND deep-trawling efforts have been based. Spectacular ship-time services, as always.
The giant squid story has been a global media sensation, featured by the NOAA Office of Exploration and Research; Discovery Channel; NY Times; Washington Post; USA Today; OCEANX; and CNN, among hundreds of others.
In addition to MEDUSA deployments, the Journey into Midnight science team had a number of other exploratory operations, including midwater trawling below 1000 m depth, ROV video transects with specimen collection, and shipboard measurements of the vision, bioluminescence, and reflectivity (color) of animals inhabiting the bathypelagic realm, earth’s largest and least-explored habitat. With respect to trawling, Dr. Sutton collected specimens for 14 ongoing projects, demonstrating the importance of sampling in addition to observation. Without such sampling, taxonomy (the science of knowing what species you are observing) would not be possible! We would instead be left wondering, “Oooh, that thing in the video looked so cool! What was it?” In total, 129 fish, 57 crustacean, and 13 squid species were collected, including many rare species, some of which we suspect are new records or new to science.
Among other scientific achievements of the cruise, Drs. Sutton and Fenolio were able to record the bioluminescence display of the Threadfin Dragonfish (Echiostoma barbatum) – something so fantastic it is hard to believe it is real. Owing to the skilled collection abilities of the ROV pilots, many specimens made it to the surface in near perfect condition, allowing for a range of high-resolution anatomical studies. With respect to vision in the midnight zone, a primary aim of the crustacean survey was to assess the ability of deep-sea shrimps to visually identify each other (i.e., conspecific recognition). Achieving this aim included measuring eye size to body length ratios across 15 species of shrimp, modeling the distances at which their bioluminescent signals remain detectable, and predicting the appearance of these signals in context of their visual acuity.
So, from all of the DEEPEND team, our deepest congratulations to Edie and Nathan! This was a testament to your hard work and ingenuity!