They aren’t your typical cruise ship passengers.
Measuring nearly 6.5 feet, with a slimy see-through exterior and a network of probing tentacles, they look like members of an alien species.
In fact, the two rare, large giant squid, discovered by fishermen in Grand Cayman’s waters and transported to Florida on a cruise ship this week, inhabit a deep sea realm almost as elusive and unexplored as outer space.
Their natural habitat is thousands of feet beneath the surface, way beyond the scope of divers.
The squid have never been photographed alive and scientists have only a few specimens.
Researchers at the University of South Florida were so keen to examine them, they arranged with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment for the bodies to be transported as cargo on a Royal Caribbean cruise liner.
They hope the samples of two different species found here will help them uncover secrets of one of the ocean’s most elusive species.
The specimens will be examined by scientists at the university and specially preserved before becoming part of a collection of rare squid samples at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Squid researcher Heather Judkins said the samples, found by local fishermen Dennis Denton and Jonathan Arch, would help piece together new information about the life histories and distribution of the animals.
Scientists speculate that the deep water squid come to the surface when they die.
“There are a couple of things I will be checking for. One possibility is that, once females reproduce, they die,” Ms Judkins said.
“Sometimes they will float to surface before sinking. That’s when the fishermen saw and collected them.”
She said she would take tissue samples, check the sex of the animal and look for signs of predation, such as shark bites.
It was rare, she said, to find samples of the two species, Asperoteuthis acanthoderma and Megalocranchia, in such good condition.
“The Asperoteuthis acanthoderma will be the first documented from the Caribbean. We have recently found this species for the first time in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Prior to that, it had only been seen off the coast of Japan. “The Megalocranchia species is rarely caught or seen so large. There are thought to be more than the two recognized species in this group so this is an excellent addition to see if that’s the case,” Ms Judkins added.
Janice Blumenthal, a researcher with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, said she had contacted experts in the United States in an effort to verify the identity of the species after they were turned over to her by the fishermen.
She was put in touch with the University of South Florida, who asked to examine the samples.
She added, “It was a pleasure to work with all the Royal Caribbean staff to arrange this unique transfer. They were extremely efficient in arranging the complex logistics of transporting the rare squid aboard their ship and importing them into the United States – though this was, of course, the first time any of us had attempted this.”