Hunt for the gi­ant squid

Central Leader - - NEWS - By KA­RINA ABADIA

Sev­er­ine Han­nam equ- ates be­ing part of an ex­pe­di­tion to cap­ture the first footage of a gi­ant squid in its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment to climb­ing a moun­tain.

‘‘I was speech­less. I didn’t know what to say. It takes so long to pre­pare and you don’t know if you are ac­tu­ally go­ing to reach your goal.’’

Auck­land War Me­mo­rial Mu­seum’s col­lec­tion man­ager says very lit­tle is known about the gi­ant squid ex­cept that it’s a very tasty morsel to a sperm whale, which makes it an im­por­tant part of the food chain.

There are lots of the­o­ries about the huge sea crea­ture, but they’re based on ob­ser­va­tions of shal­low wa­ter squid. Sci­en­tists still don’t know how long a gi­ant squid lives, how big it can grow or how it re­pro­duces.

The aim of the ex­pe­di­tion was to film a gi­ant squid for a joint doc­u­men­tary pro­ject be­tween Ja­panese broad­caster NHK and the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel.

It will pre­miere on SKY TV’s An­i­mal Planet on Septem­ber 2.

Mrs Han­nam was in­vited to join the ex­pe­di­tion by her AUT masters su­per­vi­sor Steve O’Shea.

It’s not the first time they have teamed up in search of a gi­ant squid. In 2011 they were part of a group which spent a month on the Sea of Cortes in Mex­ico. That trip was un­suc­cess­ful.

This time they spent 40 days at sea in mid- 2012 with two other marine sci­en­tists, an­other re­search as­sis­tant and film crews.

They were sta­tioned off Ja­pan’s Bonin Is­lands, where sev­eral gi­ant squid have been caught by fish­er­men in re­cent years.

Each sci­en­tist had their own ideas about how to lure the crea­ture.

Dr O’Shea’s method in­volved minc­ing 200 kilo­grams of gi­ant squid. It was Mrs Han­nam’s job to pre­pare the stinky mix­ture.

The squid meat was easy to come by. Dr O’Shea has a freezer full of it.

When gi­ant squid wash up dead on New Zealand’s shores peo­ple of­ten send them to him for his re­search.

The ‘‘ squid shake’’ was de­signed to give off pheromones that would hope­fully at­tract a male squid.

It turns out the shake wasn’t the way to go, but the team spot­ted squid any­way. The sci­en­tists spent up to six hours a day in sub­marines and sep­a­rate sight­ings of two three-me­tre-long gi­ant squid were made about 600 me­tres be­low the sur­face.

Mrs Han­nam says it was partly a case of be­ing in the right place at the right time.

‘‘The gi­ant squid has been chased around the world by sci­en­tists for many years. The rea­son it hasn’t been found is they live in wa­ter that is so deep and so dark that you don’t come across them all the time.’’

Be­ing in the sub­ma­rine was an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence, she says.

‘‘It was like be­ing in a fish­bowl. You can see un­der your feet and above your head.’’

She was one of the first to see footage of the squid.

‘‘When they are alive they have the abil­ity to change the colour of their skin.

‘‘As you watch it you see it change from a red­dish brown colour to gold.

‘‘It’s amaz­ing.’’

Photo: KA­RINA ABADIA

Go to cen­traleader.co.nz and click on Lat­est Edi­tion to see footage of a gi­ant squid. In­trepid jour­ney: Auck­land mu­seum col­lec­tion man­ager Sev­er­ine Han­nam says be­ing one of the first peo­ple to see live im­ages of a gi­ant squid was thrilling. She ap­peared in the East & Bays Courier on July 17.

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