Bigfin Squid: the alien enigma that lives in the darkest depths of the ocean

With their extraordinarily long tentacles and elusive behavior, giant squids are perhaps one of the most attractive animals of the deep sea. Sightings of living individuals in the wild are extremely rare, but thanks to advances in deep-sea exploration technology, more and more sightings have been made in recent years.

Bigfin squids belong to the genus magnapinna, which means ‘great fin’ in Latin. There are only three described species: M. atlantica, M. pacifica, And M. talismani – but there are probably many more in the ocean that have not yet been discovered.

Their name refers to the large, heart-shaped fins that sit on top of their heads and help them move across the ocean.

How big is the Bigfin Squid?

Along with their large fin, their defining features are the spindly tentacles that dangle several meters from their bodies. The largest known bigfin squid measured 6.4 meters (21 feet) in total, with tentacles measuring 6.1 meters (20 feet) long.

Where does the Bigfin Squid live?

Bigfin squid live in the world’s oceans, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but only at extremely deep depths.

They have been documented at depths of 6,212 meters (20,381 feet), making them the deepest-living squid species known to science.

A bigfin squid spotted at a depth of 1,961 meters (6,434 feet) in the northern Gulf of Mexico during an expedition by NOAA in 2012.

Another bigfin squid, spotted at a depth of 1,961 meters (6,434 feet) in the northern Gulf of Mexico during a 2012 NOAA expedition.

Image credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration

In fact, it is the first known squid to live in the hadal zone, the deepest part of the ocean that starts 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) below the water’s surface. These zones cover 45 percent of the ocean’s depth range, but only 1 percent of the seafloor surface, because they are located only in oceanic trenches far below the rest of the seafloor.

When Was Bigfin Squid Discovered?

Rumors of their existence have existed for centuries. One of the first times they were documented was in 1883 when an individual washed up on the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Its poor condition made it difficult to describe, but it most likely belonged to the species M. talismani.

Magnapinnidae was not formally described until 1998, when scientists came across two dead juveniles. One was found floating around the eastern Pacific Ocean, while the other was recovered in the stomach of a lancetfish.

Images of Bigfin Squid

The first video of a large squid was thought to have been taken in January 2000 in the Gulf of Mexico. Around this time, more footage of a large squid was also recorded in the waters around Hawaii.

It turned out that deep-sea researchers had recorded encounters with giant squids before, the first in 1988, but they didn’t know what they had captured on camera.

In recent decades, scientists have made only about two dozen observations of living giant squids, leaving many aspects of their behavior and life a complete mystery.

An interesting video observation of a large-finned squid was recorded in 2017 when researchers filmed from a remote-controlled vehicle at a depth of 3,056 meters (over 10,000 feet) in the Great Australian Bight. It is remarkable that the Magnapinna squid got caught in the turbulence of the drone submarine, causing it to spin uncontrollably in an eddy.

Perhaps the most famous video of a giant squid can be seen above and was filmed in November 2007 at a Shell oil drilling site in the Perdido region of Alaminos Canyon in the Gulf of Mexico. The squid clip went viral, no doubt thanks to the dim lighting and shaky shots that gave the video a deeply creepy atmosphere.

The many unknowns of Bigfin Squid

Bigfin squid have never been seen consuming food, so it is unknown how they hunt and eat prey. With their skinny, seemingly unwieldy tentacles, it’s hard to even speculate how they could do that.

Interestingly, scientists have only managed to collect physical samples of young giant squids, although they have collected video observations of adults – or at least of what scientists assume is their adult form. As such, little is known about their life cycle.

Scientists also don’t know how productive these animals are. Are they actually rare? Or is their apparent scarcity just a reflection of how little of the world’s oceans we have explored?

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