By Jim DeFede

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Edith Widder was in the ship’s galley, when her research partner, Nathan Robinson came rushing in.

“He didn’t say anything, but his eyes were just about popping out of his head,” Widder recalled. “So, I knew something important was on the video.”

For nearly ten days, Widder and her team had been searching the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to capture video of a giant squid.

Giant squids live in the darkest depths of the water, half a mile or more below the surface.

Widder had developed a special lure, designed to mimic the appearance of a luminescent jellyfish, to attract and record the squid. The work was time-consuming, however.

A mile-long line would trail their vessel, with the lure – dubbed the Medusa – drifting downward to various depths. Each day the lure would be retrieved, and the video uploaded onto computers. Widder and Robinson would then take turns reviewing the video in real-time.

In the week they had been in the Gulf, they spotted a variety of fish, but no Giant Squid. Then Robinson came into galley and Widder went running with him back to their lab.

“There it was, this tubular shape in the distance swimming along and that was exciting enough because I could tell it was a squid,” Widder said. “And there were a couple of sequences like that where it was following. But what’s cool is the electronic jellyfish is moving up and down through the water and you can see the squid tracking it. And then it attacks, and it comes out of the gloom straight at the camera. and it was huge.”

Widder estimates the squid was about twenty feet long – a juvenile, according to Widder. Adult squids, she added, can easily be forty feet in length.

This was only the second time a Giant Squid had been captured on video. The first was also by Widder in 2012 off the coast of Japan. “The Holy Grail of natural history cinematography,” she noted.

Founder of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association in Stuart, Florida, Widder, 68, describes herself as an ocean explorer.

“Well, we are all explorers,” Widder explained, “that’s the nature of the human being and we’re intrigued by mysteries.”

Few creatures have stirred the imagination as much as the Giant Squid.

“I think we’ve all seen the Disney Jules Verne version of the Giant Squid which is kind of funny now to look back on it,” she said. “But I guess pretty terrifying at the time.”

“There were a lot of stories about Giant Squid in legend before they even knew what they were,” she continued.

“Tales of things floating at the surface so large they could be mistaken for an island. And then ships and sailors would come too close and they would be pulled to their deaths supposedly by these monsters. In point of fact, Giant Squid doesn’t come to the surface unless they are dying and yes they will grab onto something that gets too close to them. But sailors tell sea stories and the stories grow in the telling. So, there was this great fear of monsters in the deep that they didn’t understand.”

There is no need to embellish the reality of a Giant Squid, Widder said.

“You can’t ask for a much better monster than a giant squid,” she said. “Its arms are coming straight out of its head. It’s got eight arms and two extremely long lashing tentacles that can grasp onto anything. It’s got a parrot’s type beak that can rip flesh. It’s got eyes that are bigger than any other eyes in the known animal kingdom – the size of a human head. And it’s got a jet propulsion system that goes equally fast forward or backward. It’s got three hearts that pump blue blood. I mean it just doesn’t get any better than that.”

After spotting the latest Giant Squid about 100 miles off the coast of New Orleans, Widder, whose exploration was financed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released the video of the Giant Squid.

“The thing went viral all around the world,” she said. “People are very interested in this sort of thing and we need to make people more aware of just how many incredible things there are in our ocean and what we need to be doing to protect them because we are on the verge of destroying the ocean before we even know what’s in it.”

Widder noted we have explored less than one percent of the ocean floor and that we have better maps of the moon and Mars than we do of our own planet.

“There are so many mysteries in the depths,” she said. “But we’ve explored so very little of it and we’ve had such little access.”

Jim DeFede

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