Japanese scientists have photographed a live giant squid in the wild for the first time, ending an age-old quest to document one of the most mysterious and mythologized creatures of the deep sea.
The team led by Tsunemi Kubodera, from the National Science Museum in Tokyo, tracked the 26-foot -long Architeuthis as it attacked prey at a depth of 2,970 feet off the coast of Japan's Bonin islands.
"We believe this is the first time a grown giant squid has been captured on camera in its natural habitat," said Kyoichi Mori, a marine researcher.
The camera was operated by remote control during research in the fall of 2004, capping a three-year search for the squid around the Bonin islands, 670 miles south of Tokyo, Mori told.
The feat was praised by researchers as an important milestone in observation of the enormous creatures, which appeared in the writings of the ancient Greeks as well as Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
New Zealand's leading authority on giant squid, marine biologist Steve O'Shea, hailed the Japanese team's feat, although he said the photographs in themselves would probably not advance knowledge about the animals much.
"Our reaction is one of tremendous relief that the so-called ... race is over ... because the animal has consumed the last eight or nine years of my life," he said. O'Shea added that Kubodera's determination in tracking down the animal "is truly commendable. I think it is fantastic."
Mori said the squid, which was purplish red like smaller squid, attacked its quarry aggressively.
Giant squids have long attracted human fascination and imagination, but almost everything scientists know about them has come from dead specimens found beached or floating in the ocean. The largest ones have eyes the size of dinner plates. Scientific interest in the animals has surged in recent years as more specimens have been caught in commercial fishing nets.
Researchers said the quest to learn more about the animals would go on.
O'Shea, who said there were five equally large or larger species of giant squid that have yet to be photographed, has pursued the beasts in the hope of capturing juveniles and raising them successfully in captivity.
O'Shea, the chief marine scientist at the Auckland University of Technology, enclosed 17 of them five years ago, but they died in captivity.
"We are using this charismatic mega fauna to lure people in to ... far more important issues such as conservation ... of these magnificent creatures," he said.
By focusing on the giant squid and protecting it by closing areas of coastal habitat, many smaller species were also being protected from bottom trawling and other fishing methods, the AP reports.
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