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January 29, 2013

Slate: The giant squid stalker

(Continued)

Years ago, on a shoestring budget, she and her team built a deployable system that included a low-light camera and dim red lights, which most deep dwellers can't detect. (Their eyes are tuned to blue wavelengths, which travel farther through water.)

Then she added bait. The system, called Eye-in-the-Sea, is fitted with a device that mimics the ring of blue lights fired in a marquee pattern by certain jellyfish — the ones she thinks do the burglar alarm trick. She deployed the system for the first time in the Gulf of Mexico. Just 86 seconds later, a large squid darted into view; it was a species new to science.

Widder brought a more advanced version of that system, dubbed Medusa, aboard the Alucia. She hoped the secret weapon would attract a giant squid. They hung it about 2,300 feet down from a surface buoy and left it running for hours.

Watch the Pulsing Deep-Sea Lights of Bioluminescence

The giant squid has been the stuff of legend for about as long as people have sailed across oceans. Aristotle and Pliny the Elder described what may have been giant squid, which occasionally wash ashore or end up in fishermen's nets, and the species is thought to be the origin of the Norwegian kraken myth.

Countless groups in past decades have tried to manufacture giant squid encounters, investing millions, getting all the best advice from the experts, only to come back as failed crusaders. One of the other scientists aboard the Alucia, Tsunemi Kubodera of Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science, has been hunting giant squid in these waters for years. He managed to capture some still images of one giant squid and video of another after it was caught and brought to the surface. But none of that could compare to video of the animal alive in the deep, a view that would finally allow scientists to begin to understand the mysterious animal.

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