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Discovery Channel

How Scientists Captured the First-Ever Video of a Giant Squid

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Discovery Channel

Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are cool and all, but in Dr. Edie Widder’s opinion, there’s no animal more appropriate for science fiction than the real life giant squid. “You couldn’t ask for a better alien,” she says. “An animal with multiple arms and two long tentacles, the most enormous eyes, three hearts that pump blue blood, suckers with serrated edges, and a beak that slices flesh. And it happens to be real!”

A featured creature in mythology (the Kracken from Norse legends and Greek mythology), literature (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, among others), and old sailor’s tales, the giant squid—which can grow up to 40 feet long—has proved elusive for scientists to find: The only way researchers could study the beasts was by examining carcasses that washed up on beaches and tentacles snared by fishermen. Although one was photographed in its natural habitat in 2004, attempts to film the beast have failed. Until now.

Last summer, Widder—who is co-founder, CEO, and Senior Scientist at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association—was part of a team of scientists that filmed the giant squid in its natural habitat for the first time ever. The historic footage airs on Curiosity this Sunday, January 27, on the Discovery Channel. “The giant squid has been an enigma,” Widder tells mental_floss. “To finally have this kind of imagery of it is so exciting.”

Finding the Giant

Widder joined the team—which also included marine biologist Steve O’Shea and zoologist Dr. Tsunemi Kobodera of the National Science Museum of Japan—in 2010, after Mike deGruy heard a TED talk she gave about an optical lure she had invented. The lure, on its first deployment in the Gulf of Mexico, attracted a deep sea squid so new to science it can’t be placed in any existing family. “He just got so excited,” Widder says. “‘Can’t we use these techniques to go after the giant squid?’” (Sadly, deGruy died in a helicopter crash in 2012.)

The system is comprised of an optical lure called the Electronic Jelly (or EJelly) that mimics the pinwheel light display of a jellyfish under attack. Attached to the lure is a gadget called the Medusa, a highly sensitive camera and far red lights (which are invisible to most sea creatures—they can only see greens and blues) within a waterproof housing. Thanks to her success on the system’s first deployment and during an eight-month run in Monterey Bay, Widder thought that the EJelly and the Medusa might just be the right tools for catching a glimpse of the giant squid in its natural habitat. “Giant squid are visual predators—you don’t have eyes the size of a human head unless it’s important to your survival,” she says. “I’ve spent a lot of time in submersibles thinking about what animals must face for survival in dimly lit environments. There’s an enormous volume in which to find food. An awful lot of these animals are bioluminescent, and it’s clear from the work I’ve done that bioluminescence doesn’t happen spontaneously—it’s usually stimulated by some kind of interaction, frequently predatory interactions. So it would make sense that a visual predator would be on the lookout all the time for a flash of light to find something that’s worth feeding on—not the jellyfish, but what’s eating the jellyfish.”

Finding the squid was all about location: The crew headed to the deep seas off Chichi island, Japan. "That was the doing of Dr. Kobodera," Widder says. "He had done a tremendous amount of work in that area. We knew that's where sperm whales come to feed, and fishermen had snagged tentacles from the squid there. So there was a lot of interest in going to that spot." And it also took a lot of patience; the scientists made hundreds of dives in a submersible, sometimes to deeper than 3000 feet.

The Moment of Truth

When a storm was rolling in, Widder placed the system on the ocean bottom and left it there for 30 hours while the ship returned to port. When they reviewed the footage (Widder was in the submersible, so grad student Wen-Sung Schung was checking the video), bam: There was a giant squid. “It really, really worked,” Widder says. “We had five separate sightings with the Medusa.”

Discovery Channel

Later, Kobodera and a team went down in the submersible with bait and a different optical lure and captured more than 20 minutes of high-definition video of a giant squid as it fed on the bait. “Nothing can top that high res video,” Widder says. “To have that eye looking back at you like that…it’s just incredible footage.”

This mission, which was funded by the Discovery Channel and the Japanese Broadcasting Commission (NHK), succeeded where so many others had failed thanks to one important thing. “We paid attention to the squid’s visual system,” Widder says. “All previous expeditions have used bright lights and noisy platforms. ROVs have their place, but I don’t think they’re good tools for exploring animal life in the ocean. There’s a tremendous amount of noise, and you don’t have the range of vision that you do from a submersible. That really shouldn’t be ignored when you’re trying to explore such a big space. And using optical lures instead of just using bait had huge impact.”

The scientists plan to go back and review the footage they filmed, but Widder says they’ve already learned a lot—and much of it surprised them. “The appearance of the squid was so different that what we had imagined given dead specimens,” she says. “And the eye—there was something looking back at you. It wasn’t a blank, dead eye. And it was very exciting that when it attacked, it didn’t go directly to the optical lure but to what was next to the optical lure.”

But the most important takeaway, she says, is that there’s still more of the ocean to explore, and what we find there could lead to a myriad of advancements, including a cure for cancer. “What else is down there that we haven’t discovered?” she wonders. “Why spend billions of dollars on space exploration when we haven’t explored our own planet?” Her hope is that this latest discovery will lead to more funding that will allow scientists to go on more expeditions—and not just in search of the giant squid. “It would be wonderful to man an expedition like that to find the colossal squid,” she says. “That might be even more exciting. It’s not longer, but it’s bigger by weight, more massive, and bioluminescent. My fascination is with animals that make light.”

"Monster Squid: The Giant is Real" premieres January 27 at 8pm ET/PT on the Discovery Channel as the season finale of Curiosity.

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Space
Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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travel
6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.

STOP 1: BANNERMAN CASTLE // BEACON, NEW YORK

59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.

STOP 2. GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK // EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT

116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.

STOP 3. BELCOURT CASTLE // NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.

STOP 4. HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.

STOP 5. BOLDT CASTLE // ALEXANDRIA BAY, THOUSAND ISLANDS, NEW YORK

430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.

STOP 6. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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