Giant Squid Mystery; DNA Evidence Sheds Light On Elusive Sea Monster [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on March 21, 2013 11:23 AM EDT

Giant Squid Mystery
This diorama at the American Museum of Natural History shows a giant squid attacking a sperm whale. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The giant squid mystery is one step closer to being solved after newly discovered DNA evidence revealed that there is only one species of giant squid in the ocean, not 21 as was previously thought. The report, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, finds that there is "exceptionally low" genetic diversity among giant squid from around the world.

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"There's been a lot of debate since we've known there were Giant Squid about how many species there could be," Dr Kathrin Bolstand of Auckland University of Technology told TVNZ. "Because they are found in all of the world's temperate oceans, except in the Arctic and Antarctic and it seemed unlikely there could be one species of animal."

Researchers looking for more info on the giant squid mystery collected DNA samples from 43 different specimens that had been discovered at different locations across the world. Because the samples were found hundreds, and even thousands, of miles apart scientists believed that that the mysterious giant squid had multiple species since it seemed unlikely that one species could travel so far. But the giant squid mystery grew even more when researchers discovered that the mitochondrial genomes in the samples had the same basic make-up. If there is just one giant squid species, as the researchers suspect, then adults must travel huge distances.

"It could be that as little tiny babies they actually get dispersed all over the planet and that's how they maintain a single population," said Bolstand.

Despite the findings that suggest the giant squid are all one species, the giant squid mystery remains very much alive because there are still many things researchers don't know about the sea creature. For example, researchers don't know what giant squid prey upon and have no insight into how they mate.

However, the giant squid mystery drives many researchers to look for live specimens of the elusive giant squid. In January, rare live footage of a giant squid believed to be 33-feet long was aired by Discovery News. Here is the footage that sparked a media firestorm about the giant squid mystery.

Michael Vecchione of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Services Systematics Laboratory at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. was part of a team that captured images of a giant squid, and he talked in a press release about how the giant squid mystery was just one of many facing mankind as we begin to explore the deepest depths of the ocean.

"The open waters of the very deep ocean, at depths greater than about 3,000 feet, make up by far the largest but the least known ecosystem of the earth. From the number of sightings, it seems that these are fairly common large animals in very deep water. That they have not been previously observed or captured, indicates how little is known about life in the deep ocean," Vecchione said.

According to Wikipedia, sailors have observed the giant squid in the past but may have misinterpreted their findings.

"Tales of giant squid have been common among mariners since ancient times, and may have led to the Norse legend of the kraken, a tentacled sea monster as large as an island capable of engulfing and sinking any ship. Japetus Steenstrup, the describer of Architeuthis, suggested a giant squid was the species described as a sea monk to the Danish king Christian III circa 1550. The Lusca of the Caribbean and Scylla in Greek mythology may also derive from giant squid sightings. Eyewitness accounts of other sea monsters like the sea serpent are also thought to be mistaken interpretations of giant squid," the article states.

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