October 2013: Daioika or Giant Squid

The Giant Squid - Japan's most popular underwater creature this summer!

The Giant Squid – Japan’s most popular underwater creature this summer!

Being in the ocean is one of the things I really love about Japan but the typhoon season isn’t and this year has been particularly bad.  With a spate of storms last month and this month wreaking havoc with my diving plans, I’ve been staying put on dry land and reading up on the latest marine-related news.

This year the giant squid, or “Daioika” in Japanese, has been all the rage here.  For me, squid are among the sea’s most beautiful creatures and recently they attracted much attention thanks to an exhibition called Shinkai (The Deep) held in Tokyo’s Ueno district this summer which drew more than 450,000 people between July and early October.  The highlight was a preserved specimen on display for all to see, while the exhibition also introduced visitors to the deep sea itself, the latest technology and equipment being used to explore it, the mysterious creatures of the deep and some ongoing projects.

The giant squid is one of the mysteries of the ocean but it became increasingly popular when Japan’s National Science Museum teamed up with NHK and the US Discovery Channel to successfully film it at a depth of over half a kilometer, showing it in its natural habitat for the first time.

Scientists found the squid from a spot some 15 kilometres east of Chichijima (Chichi Island) in the north Pacific and filmed it at a depth of around 630 metres.  Professor Tsunemi Kubodera is a museum researcher and part of the crew that filmed the squid.  This is what he said upon discovering the creature:

“It was shining and so beautiful.  I was so thrilled when I saw it first hand, but I was confident we would because we rigorously researched the areas we might find it, based on past data.  With this footage we hope to discover more about the life of the species.”

Professor Kubodera first began studying the giant squid back in 1998.  In 2006 he successfully filmed one for the first time when it had been hooked and brought up to the surface.  This time, to film it underwater, he suggested using a diamondback squid as bait (giant squid eat smaller squid).  The crew used a special type of blue-light lure and red light for illumination (red light is invisible to the giant squid) and got the giant to attack the bait.  Kubodera’s theory is that giant squid hunt for food by looking up.  Thanks to their huge eyes as big as dinner plates, they can see light filtering down from the surface and create a silhouette of their prey.  They can also absorb more light than their smaller counterparts.  They catch their prey by shooting out their two large feeding tentacles which contain hundreds of powerful suckers.  Eight thick arms guide the prey from the feeding tentacles to a sharp beak in the centre of the arms where it is then sliced into pieces.

Both Kubodera’s sightings of the squid occurred in the same area, about 1,000km south of Tokyo.  Could areas near Tokyo be a huge habitat for the species?

In January this year NHK went on to broadcast its documentary called “Legends of the Deep: Giant Squid” triggering even more interest in the creature.  I’m currently talking to NHK about the possibility of interviewing Professor Kubodera on radio to learn more about his footage and future projects.  As he mentioned in a recent article, “almost nothing is known about the giant squid.  We know nothing about where males and females meet, how they raise their offspring, nothing at all and so our next step is how we can research this.  We may have seen a giant squid in its natural habitat for the first time, but research into this mysterious creature has only just begun.”






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