Rare giant squid found

Fishermen have found a rare, deep-water, six-foot-long squid in Cayman waters – only the fifth of its kind to be found in the Atlantic.

The Department of the Environment revealed this week that the animal, which was dead, was discovered on 27 September by Dennis Denton, Stuart Mailer, and M. Christine RoseSmyth-Mailer while deep sea fishing off Grand Cayman.

Rare, deep-water, six-foot-long squid

Rare, deep-water, six-foot-long squid

Mr. Denton said he and his friends 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 the sighting, Mr. Denton went to take a closer look.

‘The animal was intact and much larger than we had thought so it was brought on board for better inspection and photographs.’

They called the Department of Environment, whose staff said they were interested in examining the squid further, and then they placed the creature in plastic bags, put it on ice, and brought it to shore.

Department of Environment 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 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.

‘We were told that this squid is only the fifth animal of the species ever documented in the Atlantic Ocean, and it is in very good condition,’ said Ms Blumenthal.

She said 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 specimens found, a handful have been documented in the Pacific Ocean but, prior to 2006, none had ever been found in the Atlantic.

Then, during a 10-month period between 2006 and 2007, four were discovered – two recovered off the Florida Keys, one photographed near Grand Cayman, and one recovered near Little Cayman.

Dr. Judkins explained that the unprecedented discoveries in the Atlantic 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.’

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

Members of the public can report sightings of large sea creatures including dolphins, whales, sharks, manta rays, adult turtles with greater than a three-feet shell length, and giant squid, to a DOE database by calling 949-8469 or emailing [email protected].