Floating about 12 miles (19 kilometers) off Port Salerno (map), Florida, a stirring, intact giant squid gave a small fishing party a shock around 11 a.m. Sunday—and could give researchers new insights into the species, which has never been studied alive, scientists say.
"We looked at it [and] all three of us were like, Holy mackerel!" recreational fisher Robby Benz told WPTV. "It didn't seem it had been dead long, the tentacles were still moving and it was sticking to you when we got it in" the fishing boat.
After reaching shore, the men called wildlife authorities, and the then dead giant squid soon found a home at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
Giant squid, the world's largest invertebrates, are thought to reach lengths of up to about 60 feet (18 meters) and can weigh nearly a ton. The Florida specimen, though, is about 25 feet (8 meters) long and weighs about 200 pounds (90 kilograms).
Like other giant squid, the new catch is white with patches of red skin, which contains chromatophores—pigment-containing cells that can change colors rapidly, presumably for communication or camouflage. (Related: "Colossal Squid Has Glowing 'Cloaking Device,' Huge Eyes.")
"Very Rare" Squid
Giant squid are found in oceans worldwide, but the animals have seldom been spotted in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida, said Roger Portell, an invertebrate paleontologist at the natural history museum, who's helping to preserve the squid.
"These are very rare animals," Portell told National Geographic News. "They tend to be in very deep waters, so we don't see them normally."
The new specimen, he added, is "exceptional."
"There was very little trauma to it," he said. Though it was missing a tentacle, the squid doesn't look to have been attacked, he added.
Though not the sea monsters they were once depicted as, giant squid have been known to battle sperm whales in the deep.
(See rare pictures of sperm whales eating a giant squid.)
Since the giant squid appears to have been intact yet on the verge of death when it was found, Portell thinks the new specimen—the gender of which is still unknown—may have just reproduced.
"As a general rule in cephalopods"—including, squid, octopuses, and cuttlefish—"both males and females die shortly after reproducing. It is assumed that this is what also happens in this species."
The fishers, ha added, deserve credit for the specimen's rare state of preservation, he added.
"They collected it right away, brought it to shore right away, and called the authorities, who put it on ice right away. So it worked out very well," Portell said.
Benz, the fisher, said he was partly motivated to haul in his giant catch because he didn't think anyone would believe him if he didn't.
"Nobody believes a fisherman," he told WPTV.
(Related: "Giant Squid Killed by Sound?")
Giant Squid Body Saved for Science
At the museum, the specimen has been injected with a preservative called Formalin and is soaking in a chemical solution. (Pictures: "Giant Squid Get Extreme Plastic Surgery.")
Once the two-week preservation process is finished, the squid will become part of the museum's research collection. Its genetic data should be of particular interest to researchers trying to determine whether the beast we call the giant squid—Architeuthis dux—is actually more than one species, Portell said.
"We've already had some researchers contact us about coming down to look at it," he said.