This week: Wonders of the deep In the deep freeze and eternal night of the depths of the Antarctic's Ross Sea, named after the explorer James Ross in 1841, a fishing boat caught the largest colossal squid specimen ever on February 22 last year. It weighed in at a massive 495kg and was 10 metres long. The previous maximum for these giants was estimated at 275kg. It goes to show how little we know of the deep blue sea and its inhabitants and how wildly wrong scientists' guesses can be. In the past the length of these behemoths had been greatly exaggerated, up to 18 metres, by unscrupulous discoverers that stretched the tentacles like giant elastic bands to achieve a new animal kingdom milestone. It's amazing what some people will do for fame. The most common place to find these giant squid is in the stomach of dead sperm whales. More than 105 specimens have been discovered this way and the length of the tentacles rarely exceeded 5 metres. Only recently did the giant squid reveal itself to the world, like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and myth entered reality. The Earth's oceans are mostly unexplored, and new creatures are discovered regularly in a seemingly inexhaustible supply. It is suggested that we haven't even began to come close to cataloguing all the creatures that dwell in the sea. Many live so far down and so remotely that they are rarely sighted by humans. The earliest giant squid found were those washed up on shore and exhibited as freaks to the public straight out of science fiction. On September 30, 2004, some patient and persistent Japanese researchers took the first live video and photos of the giant squid (Architeuthis) in its natural habitat. The camera was at a depth of 900 metres in the North Pacific Ocean, off Japan's Ogasawara Islands, and the animal measured about 8 metres long. The beast was attracted towards the camera by the use of smaller common squid and finely diced shrimp as bait. The bait was attached to a set of hooks that snared the monster as its tentacles latched on tenaciously. But after four hours and 13 minutes, the squid broke loose and escaped, leaving 5.5 metres of sashimi still wriggling on the hooks. During the epic struggle, the researchers Kudodera and Mori managed to take some live footage and more than 500 images of the giant squid struggling, and reported their findings to that week's issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. The researchers were surprised to find that instead of what had been expected to be a sluggish predator, they had a very co-ordinated, fast and active hunter that used its tentacles to mangle, crush and tangle its prey. This all happened in the total dark of the deep sea, where no sunlight can penetrate, even during the day. These giant predators have predators of their own in the form of sperm whales. The largest specimen found in the Ross Sea was frozen and transported to Wellington, New Zealand, where it was kept until last week, when the scientists began the painstaking process of thawing the beast for an autopsy that was broadcast live over the internet. Unlike the Roswell Alien Autopsy, this was non-fiction. Because there could have been severe damage to the cells of the squid if it was thawed too rapidly, the defrosting process took place over a whole week. Scientists found the windows to the squid soul, its eyes, were the largest ever recorded in the animal kingdom. The eye measured a whopping 27cm in diameter, and this was after shrinkage due to the freezing process. When the animal was alive the eye would have been at its full size of more than 40cm in diameter. It had a lens the size of an orange. An eye this big suggests that sight played a significant role in its behaviour. The enormous size of the eye would mean that it could make the most efficient use of any light that hits its sensitive retina. Since there is no natural sunlight at the depths at which these predators hunt, the light those great eyes sense must be animal in origin. Many animals at that depth have body parts that glow to attract food and mate. And these are likely targeted as food by our giant tentacled friend. It is likely that their sight and the ability of their bodies to sense vibrations in the water enable giant squid to zoom in and wrap their prey in their numerous tentacles. The tentacles have vicious serrated sucker rings that hold the prey tightly as it is moved towards the powerful beak, where the prey is killed. Then the squid's sharp, raspy tongue moves the prey into the oesophagus and down to the stomach. Adventurous Japanese have chopped up some giant squid tentacle and served it up with wasabi. The taste was said to be bitter but edible.