Posted by: Craig Woolheater on April 27th, 2007
What Have We Here? A researcher at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., examines a 7-foot squid sent to the lab recently.
(Photo Courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory)
Scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., are entangled in an identity crisis. Exactly what is this gelatinous blob, and where did it come from?
One thing is certain. The marine creature on a slab at the lab is a giant squid. But researchers are still trying to figure out how it got to the Atlantic.
Debi Ingrao, a mollusk expert and senior biologist at Mote, worked with squid experts from the Smithsonian Institute to tentatively identify it as an Asperoteuthis acanthoderma. Their theory comes from an examination of such characteristics as its sucker rings, body composition, color and beak.
That identification is not 100 percent certain yet, and scientists from the two organizations will work together to confirm its identity.
The giant squid was found recently in waters south of Key West by a fisherman who packed it on ice and sent it to Mote, one of the country’s leading marine-research centers.
The find comes on the heels of a similar, more stunning discovery in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. Fishermen caught what is believed to be the world’s largest known squid, a colossal, 30-foot creature weighing nearly half a ton and having eyes the size of basketballs. That find made international headlines.
The Mote squid measures about 7 feet long but is missing its feeding tentacles and part of the fin and tail. If its tentacles were intact, it would be twice as long.
Still, the partial squid can reveal much about how these mysterious animals live and feed, and details about their environment.
“Squids are unique,” Ingrao said. “Because they live in such deep water, it’s unusual to get specimens.”
Scientists want to study squids for another reason. They hope to learn more about their nervous systems. Squids have complex brains and among the largest nerve ganglion in the animal kingdom. By better understanding these nerve clusters, researchers might find clues to treating diseases within the nervous systems of people.
But even when scientists have a rare specimen from the deep, it rarely stays pristine for long. A squid quickly loses its internal water and deteriorates, and the skin darkens when exposed to air. Underwater, the gelatinous layer of skin is translucent, exposing internal organs and arteries.
If the squid does turn out to be a sample of Asperoteuthis acanthoderma, this will be the first time one has been found in the Atlantic.
It is a deep-water squid species previously reported in Okinawa and Hawaii and in seas south of the Phillippines.
“It could have been here all along and it’s never been identified before,” said a spokeswoman at Mote. One reason for the discovery may be that fishermen went deeper than they previously had; another may be that it drifted here on ocean currents and is far from its home.
Either way, it is an unusual discovery and is likely to be sent to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
“This is the first time this species has been found in the Atlantic, so it’s important to have it in the national museum,” Ingrao said.Winston-Salem Journal