Of all the wild creatures floating deep beneath the ocean, the giant squid is probably the one you’ve heard the most about—it’s inspired literal legends for centuries. But despite all you’ve heard, we actually know hardly anything about these outsized cephalopods.
The very first images of a giant squid were only recorded in 2004, and it was nearly another decade before researchers got live footage of one in action. Both those sightings happened in Japanese waters. Last week, though, NOAA researchers on an exploratory mission in the Gulf of Mexico recorded a squid in U.S. waters for the very first time.
The video is brief and eerie, like most glimpses of deep-sea life. ‘Headless chicken monsters‘ and two-butted fish and other magnificent beasts feel bizarre to us because we’re accustomed to life on land. But thousands of feet beneath the surface, those critters are the norm. Like giant squid, they’re adapted to living in an extremely dark, pressurized environment.
This squid comes at the camera head-on, so it’s difficult to tell exactly how large it is. The NOAA researchers think it’s around 10 to 12 feet long, which would make it but a wee juvenile in the giant squid world—adults can grow to staggering lengths of 43 feet. That’s like stacking more than seven average adult American men on top of one another.
The glimpse is brief, but it gives some hope and guidance to marine biologists hoping to get more footage. Medusa, the deep sea probe that these researchers used, is stealthy—it doesn’t have the bright lights that other ROVs use down in the ocean depths. NOAA biologists speculate that perhaps, given that thousands of trips have probed the Gulf of Mexico before and never found a giant squid, stealth might be the way to go. They found the creature after only five deployments, suggesting the unique method may be key. Of course, a single sighting could still be ascribed to good luck. Hopefully, we’ll be teeming in footage of giant tentacles soon.
An earlier version of this story called squids crustaceans, which they quite clearly are not. Squids are cephalopods, and magnificent ones at that, so we regret the error.