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Giant Squid Found

The giant squid recovered from Cayman waters recently. Photo by Dennis Denton.

We were told that this squid is only the 5th animal of the species ever documented in the Atlantic Ocean...

—DoE Research Officer Dr. Janice Blumenthal

A very rare deep water squid -- measuring more than 6 feet in length -- has recently been recovered from Cayman waters.

The animal was discovered last month on Sunday, 27 September 2009, by Dennis Denton, Stuart Mailer, and M. Christine RoseSmyth-Mailer while they were deep sea fishing off the coast of Grand Cayman.

According to Mr. Denton they were "trolling along a weed line about 1.5 miles north of the Rum Point channel when we noticed something in the water ahead of us. As we went passed we realised it was a large squid, apparently dead, floating just below the surface."

Recognising the scientific importance of this sighting, Mr. Denton marked the location with a GPS and brought in the fishing lines to have a closer look. He explained: "The animal was intact and much larger than we had thought so it was brought on board for better inspection and photographs."

After a call was made to the Department of Environment (DoE) confirming their interest in examining the squid further, it was placed in plastic bags, put on ice, and brought to shore.

DoE Deputy Director for Research and Assessment Timothy Austin and Research Officer Janice Blumenthal collected the squid from Mr. Denton, took DNA samples and preserved the specimen. They then contacted cephalopod experts at the Smithsonian Institution, Mote Marine Laboratory, and the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science to report the discovery.

According to Dr. Heather Judkins, a cephalopod expert at the University of South Florida, the squid appears to be Asperoteuthis acanthoderma -- a little-known deep sea dwelling species.

DoE's Dr. Blumenthal said, "We were told that this squid is only the 5th animal of the species ever documented in the Atlantic Ocean, and it is in very good condition. Cephalopod experts such as Dr. Judkins and Dr. Clyde Roper at the Smithsonian Institution have expressed great interest in examining and dissecting the specimen."

Dr. Judkins explained that closer examination of the specimen and analysis of DNA samples would be used to confirm the identity of the species, and added: "Since this is a deep sea squid, almost everything is fair game for future study. We haven't seen a male specimen yet for this region and to learn anything about their biology, ecology, and habitat would be extremely interesting to discover."

Of the previous Asperoteuthis acanthoderma specimens, a handful have been documented in the Pacific Ocean but prior to 2006 none had ever been found in the Atlantic. Then during a ten month period between 2006 and 2007 four specimens were discovered - two recovered off the Florida Keys, one photographed near Grand Cayman, and one recovered near Little Cayman.

Experts are still unsure why the species had never been seen in the Atlantic before 2006 and why four specimens were then found in such a short period.

Dr. Judkins explained that discoveries might be due to fishermen now recognising the importance of reporting giant squid sightings to scientists, and that topography of the ocean floor might also play a role: in the Florida Keys and the Cayman Islands "there is a geological bump of sorts where the depth of the water goes from deep to shallow rather quickly and that may be bringing the squid closer to the surface."

She continued: "There has been in-depth research done in the Broad Caribbean since the 1950s and to find a new large species shows us how little we have actually studied of the deeper waters of the Broad Caribbean. It shows that more fieldwork is needed and it can be a great benefit to cephalopod research."

Regarding the specimens collected in the Cayman Islands, Dr. Blumenthal said: "Clearly, there is much that is unknown regarding the oceanic animals that inhabit and move through Cayman waters - including deep water squid and their predators such as beaked whales and sperm whales."

In November 2009, the Save Our Seas Foundation will carry out an OTEP funded project with the DoE to survey the waters surrounding the Cayman Islands for marine mammals, as well as sharks and rays.

DoE officials also ask members of the public who spot large sea creatures (such as dolphins, whales, sharks, manta rays, adult turtles with over 3 ft shell length, and of course giant squid) to make a report to the DoE marine sightings database by calling 949-8469 or emailing DoE.