MonsterQuest’s “Giant Squid Ambush”

In the MonsterQuest episode entitled “Giant Squid Ambush”, the team returns to the Sea of Cortez in search of a giant Humboldt squid. In the 2006 MonsterQuest episode, the expedition was able to capture footage of what may have been a 60 foot monster Humboldt squid. Now the new expedition is outfitted with better equipment and the desire to find more definitive proof of this sea monster. A summary of the first expedition can be found at:

The Humboldt squid is an extremely aggressive species of squid that can be found in the Sea of Cortez. Captured specimens have been found to be up to eight feet long and 200 pounds in weight. They have sharp beaks, eight flailing arms and two long tentacles that are lined with sharp serrated suckers. Humboldt squid may be even more dangerous as they could hunt in packs.

MonsterQuest diver Scott Cassell described how he was attacked in 1996 by several Humboldt squid. While diving in the Sea of Cortez, he was attacked by a group of several 6 foot long Humboldt squids. The first squid grabbed his arm and wrenched it out of the socket. Two other squid grabbed his legs and began to drag him down to greater depths. As the squid pulled him down, his eardrums burst. After being dragged down about 70 feet, he was finally able to beat the squid off with his camera and make it safety back to his ship.

There are many stories of giant squid attacking humans. There is the story of an Indian freighter that was sunk in World War II. While the survivors of the sinking were adrift on the ocean, they report that they were attacked by a giant squid. Tentacles grabbed onto one of the men and he was pulled under the water to never be seen again.

Local fishermen in the Sea of Cortez describe their encounters with the Humboldt squid while fishing for them. Jose Raul describes how the tentacles have rows of teeth that act like small handsaws. The teeth grate on the skin and everywhere they touch starts to bleed. There are fishermen that have lost toes to the sharp beaks of the Humboldt. One local story tells of a fishermen being dragged from his boat and killed by a Humboldt.

Anatomy of a Squid Attack

The attack of a Humboldt squid is so swift that it can not be captured on normal film. The striking of the tentacles occurs within one frame of film and it can not be examined in detail. To examine squid attacks a new system was used by Dr. William Kier from the UNC Chapel Hill Department of Biology. Kier utilized the same type of high speed cameras that the military uses to film missile tests.

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With this film Kier was able to break down the attack into phases. The attention phase is when the squid becomes aware of the prey. The reorientation phase is when the squid moves into the proper orientation and distance to strike at the prey. The squid needs to move within ½ of its body length in order to strike at the prey. So a giant squid could be well out of visual range and be within striking distance. The next phase is the attack phase. The tentacles strike out rapidly at the prey and draw it in towards the arms. Once controlled by the arms, the prey is bitten and consumed by the beak and mouth. The tentacle strike occurs within an amazing 15 to 30 milliseconds and the prey is brought back to the arms within one second. The whole attack from strike to bite can occur within two seconds.

Questions from the 2006 Expedition

In the 2006 expedition, the MonsterQuest team captured a 6 foot Humboldt that they attached an underwater camera to. This “Trojan squid” was then released to return to the greater depths of the ocean. At a depth of approximately 700 feet, the camera caught footage of what appears to be a giant Humboldt squid. Forensic video expert Peter Schmitz was able to use the footage to make a size estimated. Proportionate size between body parts (i.e. beak and eyes, etc…) remains constant within each species of squid. By using the visible beak and eye proportions from the film along with camera specifications and known species proportion, Schmitz estimated the creature to be 60 feet long if a Humboldt squid and 108 feet long if it is an Architeuthis squid. Either one would be much larger than known specimens.

Zoologist Clyde Roper does not believe that the creature in the video could be a giant Humboldt squid. He states that Humboldt squids do not get to be that big and just like other species there is a limit on their size. Roper also believes that it could not be an Architeuthis (giant squid) as they are not found in the Sea of Cortez. Previously found 60 foot long Architeuthis specimens have been found in New Zealand, Norway and New Foundland. In June of 2008 an Architeuthis carcass was found of the coast of Santa Cruz California just 1300 miles from the entrance to the Sea of Cortez.

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Doug Hajicek, the camera expert from the 2006 expedition, agrees that the 2006 raises a lot of questions. The footage could be of an overgrown Humboldt, an Architeuthis or some unknown species. With this in mind, MonsterQuest sends a new expedition to the Sea of Cortez with improved equipment.

The New Expedition

The team plans to use the “Trojan squid” method to get the camera system down to the proper depth to film. Engineering contractor Carl Anderson has worked with the team to develop a new camera system that should provide more accurate measurements. The new system has an improved lighting system and two parallel lasers to aid in object measurement. The lasers are set at 4 ½ inches apart and will remain constant over the visible length. This will allow the team to basically use the lasers as a ruler when figuring out the size of an object.

Dale Pearson will again lead the dive team on the expedition. Joining him will be Robert Arrington who is an underwater cameraman specializing in large aquatic predators. The third team member is Michael Pearson who is a diver and paramedic.

The MonsterQuest team returns to Loreto Bay which was the site of the squid footage from the first expedition. On the first day of the expedition, the team jigs for Humboldt squid in the area and are able to find none. Local fishermen inform the team that there are a lot of Humboldt squid in the Santa Rosalia area. The team moves 110 miles north of Loreto bay to Santa Rosalia for day two of the expedition.

On the second day, the team attaches a small camera to the jig line that they are using to catch Humboldt squid. This camera captures some extreme footage of Humboldt squid aggressiveness. A small squid latches on to the jig and the crew begins to bring it up. As it is being reeled up it is quickly attacked by a larger five to six foot Humboldt. As they continue to reel in the squid, it is attacked once again by another squid and is completely ripped apart.

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The dive team goes into the water when a 4 ½ foot long Humboldt is caught on the jig. The divers attach the camera system to the squid. As Pearson goes to release the squid, it turns and attacks him. Pearson gets wrapped up in the arms of the squid but is eventually able to break free. As the squid dives, the crew on the boat is able to watch the footage until it goes black. The crew reels the squid back in to find that the rapid descent of the squid has caused the camera gear to break under the pressure.

On the third day of the expedition, the team is able to retrofit the camera attachment with an older camera system. The team is able to capture a fairly large Humboldt to attach the camera system to. After a struggle, they are able to attach the camera system and the “Trojan squid” begins its rapid dive. When the squid gets down to the lower levels, the team observes no other squid on the video even though the upper levels were full of them. The team theorizes that the laser system may be scaring off the other squid. The team reels the “Trojan squid” back up, turn off the lasers and let it go again. This time the team gets video of several other squid at the lower levels.

The team completes the expedition over the next couple of days but they are unable to capture any additional footage of monster sized squid. One interesting piece of footage that they captured was the large sucker marks on one of the “Trojan squid”. The squid appeared to have been attacked at one point and was covered in one inch diameter suction marks.

The 2006 expedition footage remains the best evidence for the existence of giant Humboldt squid. The question remains of what type of squid was shown on the footage. The only thing that is for certain is that the Sea of Cortez is definitely an area where fishermen and divers must remain aware that they share the sea with dangerous squid.