Captain Nemo should avoid the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration exploration mission captured rare footage of a giant squid "in America's backyard."
NOAA's Ocean Explorer account tweeted the discovery on Friday.
The NOAA Journey into Midnight mission is investigating deep, dark areas of the Gulf of Mexico below 3,800 feet (1,000 meters). This is known as the bathypelagic (midnight) zone.
The squid appeared on Wednesday in video footage, showing off its extensive tentacles. The researchers estimated its size at around 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.7 meters) long, which would make it a juvenile giant squid.
Squid expert Michael Vecchione at the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Services took a look and declared the identification to be nearly certain.
The team used a stealthy camera system called Medusa. Instead of shining bright lights to illuminate the darkness, it uses red lights that won't scare off most deep sea dwellers. An "e-jelly" electronic jellyfish acts as a lure to attract animals. That's what the squid was checking out when it appeared on camera.
The scientists said thousands of previous submersible dives had failed to film giant squid in the Gulf of Mexico. "This suggests that the animal does not like the bright lights of ROVs and that stealth monitoring of the sort possible with the Medusa can allow us to see what has never been seen before," Duke University biologist Sönke Johnsen and Ocean Research & Conservation Association senior scientist Edith Widder wrote in a mission log update.
Widder is the scientist who helped capture the first-ever footage of a giant squid in its natural environment in 2012. The expedition team expressed hope of spotting a giant squid in the Gulf back on June 11. That hope turned into a dream come true, in all its tentacled glory.
Giant squid might get a bad rap thanks to their ship-munching portrayal in mythology and fiction, but the NOAA team is fascinated and not frightened. "What were once monsters to be feared are now curious and magnificent creatures that delight," the scientists wrote.