Giant purple and black flying squid photobomb crew investigate shipwreck

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The purple-backed flying squid (Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis) who swam past the ROV investigating the sinking in the Gulf of Aqaba. (Image credit: OceanX)

Scientists mapping the seabed in the Gulf of Aqaba, the “right antenna” part of the northern Red Sea, recently made two remarkable sightings almost simultaneously: a sunken wreck and a mysterious large squid surrounding it, according to the report. ‘OceanX marine research organization.

After sending in a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the OceanX team quickly identified the wreckage – it was the Pella, a ferry that caught fire and sank in November 2011. The squid, however, took longer to to identify. But that made a lot of cameos; the crew used the ROV and submersibles to tour the wreckage three times, and each time they saw a huge squid swimming.

After consulting with Michael Vecchione, an invertebrate zoologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, the crew finally got an answer; the cephalopod was a purple-backed flying squid (Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis), and a giant at that.

“We were photobombed by the giant purple back,” Mattie Rodrigue, science program manager at OceanX, told Live Science. “I was kidding, it was a made-for-TV moment.”

Related: Free the Kraken! Giant squid photos

The purple-backed flying squid occurred in October 2020, when OceanX’s research vessel, the OceanXplorer, was on its maiden voyage to map the seabed of the northern Red Sea. The crew were in the Neom region in the Gulf of Aqaba and regularly cataloged the region’s underwater ecosystem and bathymetry with on-board technology including multibeam sonar and deep-sea vehicles.

Next, the ship’s survey technician alerted Rodrigue that multibeam sonar was detecting an anomaly about 328 feet (100 meters) long on the seabed. Some crew members thought it was a large boulder or coral reef, but others thought it was a shipwreck. Subsequent investigation with ocean going vehicles confirmed that this was the sinking of the Pella, which sank on its way to Nuweiba, Egypt, resulting in the death of a passenger.

As the ROV approached the bow of the sinking about 2,788 feet (850 m) below sea level, a large squid “came towards us and then swerved,” Rodrigue said.

The OceanX crew three times sent ocean-going vessels to the wreckage and each time they saw a purple-backed flying squid. (Image credit: OceanX)

The ROV has lasers that can help measure underwater objects, but the crew did not turn them on in time. The squid is likely to have a total length of around 6 feet (2 m), said Vecchione, who spoke to both OceanX and Live Science. There are reports of mature female purple-backed flying squids with coats (the body or “hat-shaped” part of the squid) measuring up to 2.6 feet (82 centimeters), he said. .

The purple-backed flying squid comes in five sizes, ranging from dwarf form to giant form, which likely it was, Vecchione told Live Science. The squid’s short and wide fins, as well as its body proportions, match that of a purple-backed flying squid, and the Red Sea has a known population of purple-backed flying squid, he noted.

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The OceanX crew are stunned when they see the footage of the big squid.

The OceanX crew are stunned when they see the footage of the big squid. (Image credit: OceanX)
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The OceanX crew aboard the OceanXplorer vessel spotted the purple-backed flying squid in 2020 near a shipwreck.

The OceanX crew aboard the OceanXplorer vessel spotted the purple-backed flying squid in 2020 near a shipwreck. (Image credit: OceanX)
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The OceanX crew saw the Purple-backed Flying Squid in the Gulf of Aqaba in the northern Red Sea.

The OceanX crew saw the Purple-backed Flying Squid in the Gulf of Aqaba in the northern Red Sea. (Image credit: Google; Imagery © 2021 TerraMetrics, Map data © 2021 Mapa GISrael)

These squids are active predators that live in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, according to the australian museum. They live in the open ocean to depths of around 3,280 feet (1,000 m), but swim frequently to shallower depths at night to feed. In addition, these muscular and fast squids can cruise at speeds of 6.2 mph (10 km / h) with gusts of up to 22 mph (35 km / h), according to SeaLifeBase, an internationally maintained marine research site.

S. oualaniensis are harvested as bait for tuna in Japan and Taiwan, and they are also eaten by humans, “although the quality of the meat is relatively poor”, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

It is not known if the purple-backed flying squid frequently hang around the wrecks, but sighting this individual (or individuals, it was not clear if there was more than one) raises the question. , said Vecchione. It is possible that the wrecks attract the fish, which the squid feed on, he noted.

Spotting the squid was a memory she will never forget, Rodrigue said.

“It was so spectacular for me,” said Rodrigue. “It was already going to be an exciting day because we thought we were going to see a shipwreck… but we had absolutely no idea that we were going to meet such a magnificent and large animal.”

Originally posted on Live Science.

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