In Search of Giant Squid

Dr. Clyde F. E. Roper, a marine biologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, is currently leading an international team of more than a dozen scientists on an expedition to study the biodiversity and habitat of the Kaikoura Canyon, a rich deep-sea ecosystem off New Zealand's South Island. The steep canyon is part of an enormous, little-explored trench system that is home to sperm whales and other sea fauna, natural anticarcinogens and Architeuthis, the giant squid. The giant squid, which can reach 60 feet in length, has never been observed alive in its natural habitat.

Included in the team are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sea Grant Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Lab, the Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology, and the New Zealand National Institutes of Water and Atmosphere. In addition, National Geographic Television, the world renowned producer of National Geographic specials will film the expedition. It is anticipated that people from around the world will be able to share in the day to day activities during the expedition, live on the World Wide Web.

One way to study the inhabitants of Kaikoura Canyon, and potentially observe the giant squid first hand, is to lower a robotic, autonomous underwater vehicle into the frigid, inky depths where sperm whales feed. Scientists can use powerful lights, cameras and listening devices in the vehicle to observe the hunter and the hunted. Even a brief glimpse of a giant squid could answer many questions about its habitat and morphology, its interaction with other deep sea denizens, and even what it eats and how it swims. Leading the AUV team is Dr. James G. Bellingham, Prinicipal Research Engineer and the Manager of the MIT Sea Grant Underwater Vehicles Laboratory.

Emory Kristof, the renowned deep-sea photographer for National Geographic will use the Ropecam system he developed, as another method of exploring the abyssal depths of Kaikoura Canyon. The Ropecam positions a video camera at depths ranging from 500 to 6,000 feet to record images of animals attracted to bait pumped out by the system. The Ropecam images will be interpreted by a team of scientists led by Greg Stone, associate director of conservation programs at Boston's New England Aquarium.

Smithsonian Giant Squid Overview Page

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