Deep-sea submersibles have spotted and filmed a new type of squid in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.
"We have never seen anything like it," says cephalopod biologist Michael Vecchione, of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and an author of a report, "Worldwide Observations of Remarkable Deep-Sea Squids," that appears in the December 21 issue of the journal Science. "It just shows how little we know about life-forms in the deep sea."
Squid are usually characterized by eight long arms and two modified shorter arms called tentacles.
The newly discovered squid has ten indistinguishable appendages which all appear the same length and which radiate from the main axis of the body like spokes on a bicycle wheel. All of the appendages have a sharp bend, like an elbow, from which the rest of the arm hangs straight down.
Other particularly "weird" features are the two enormous fins that stick out from a comparatively tiny body. The two fins are like elephant ears that flap as the creature floats around.
"It's a very weird-looking thing—really big fins, really long arms and this tiny little body in between," says Vecchione.
Although no specimens have been captured, Vecchione suspects that the creature belongs to the recently identified squid family Magnapinnidae, which means "big fins." Only juveniles belonging to this family have been seen before and they had "wormy extensions at the tips of their arms" and had a vague resemblance to the new squid, Vecchione says.
The new squid could be an adult member of the species but researchers can't say for certain until they have caught a specimen.
Size estimates of the squid range from 1.5 to 7 meters (5 to 23 feet). But Vecchione says it is not surprising that such a large creature has not washed up on a beach. The squid live in very deep water and their bodies are very fragile and would probably be eaten long before reaching the surface.
The squid has been spotted eight times: once in 1988, twice in 1992, once in 1998, three times in 2000, and once in 2001. Some videotaped encounters last up to ten minutes.
The squid were spotted at depths ranging from 6,300 feet (1,940 meters) to 15,500 feet (4,735 meters).
"They must be fairly common for people to bump into them all over the world," says Vecchione.
"New species are a dime a dozen in the deep sea," says Vecchione, "and I suspect there are a lot of very weird things down there."
"Worldwide Observations of Remarkable Deep-Sea Squids," by Michael Vecchione at National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., was co-authored for Science by R. E. Young at University of Hawaii in Honolulu, Hawaii; D. J. Lindsay at Japan Marine Science and Technology Center in Kanagawa-ken, Japan; D. A. Clague at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California; J. M. Bernhard at University of South Carolina in Columbia; W. W. Sager at Texas A&M University in College Station; M. Segonzac at IFREMER/CENTOB in Plouzan, France; and A. Guerra, A. F. Gonzalez and F. J. Rocha at ECOBIOMAR in Vigo, Spain.