A ghostly squid with huge iridescent fins and funky elbows in its tentacles is rarely seen, but scientists recently captured stunning images of the elusive animal on an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico.
To date, there have been less than 20 confirmed sightings of this deep water cephalopod, known as the bigfin squid (Magnapine), and this recent sighting adds one to the list, according to a statement by NOAA Ocean Exploration.
Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spotted the elusive squid during their recent “Windows to the Deep 2021: Southeast ROV and Mapping expedition,” in which the team explored areas of deep water poorly understood in the western Atlantic Ocean off the southeastern United States.
While filming underwater near the West Florida Escarpment – a steep slope in the seabed that separates the shallow coastal waters from the deep Gulf of Mexico – the team noticed a set of blue appendages skinny who drifted in front of their remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
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In the footage, the camera turns to reveal the big-finned squid in all its glory, its eight arms and two tentacles scattered behind it. The creature’s large fins – which extend over the main part of its body, called the mantle – gently wave in the water, much like the fins of a stingray flap. The transparent mantle contains the squid’s organs, which appear light yellow and pink in the light of the ROV.
Mike Vecchione, a research zoologist at the NOAA National Fisheries Systematics Laboratory and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, was ashore looking at images of the ROV on a satellite feed as the bigfin squid appeared .
He and Richard E. Young of the University of Hawaii first described the large-finned squid family, called Magnapinnidae, in 1998, according to a report in the South African Journal of Marine Sciences. Since then, three species of large-finned squid have been described, but there may be other species of large-finned squid to be discovered, according to the NOAA statement.
When the big-finned squid appeared on the ROV’s feed, Vecchione quickly called the vehicle operators to share his knowledge of the animal, the statement said. “Magnapinna… all of their arms and tentacles have this extension on them, a long spaghetti-shaped extension,” Vecchione can be heard in the NOAA video footage. “It’s really hard to tell the arms from the tentacles, which is very unusual for a squid.”
The big-finned squid retains all of these appendages from its body, creating those distinctive elbow-shaped bumps that make its tentacles so recognizable.
The squid has been seen swimming about 7,825 feet (2,385 meters) below the ocean surface, but in the past, large-fin squid have been spotted up to 15,535 feet (4,735 m) deep , according to the press release.
Members of the bigfin family are widely distributed throughout the world’s deep ocean ecosystems, but it is not known how many there are in total, as cephalopods are so rarely seen.
Last year, scientists reported seeing five of the squids near Great Australian Bight, a large bay in South Australia – the first time a large-finned squid had been spotted in Australian waters, Previously reported live science.