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January 25, 2013

Slate: The giant squid stalker

(Continued)

The expedition has not released expense figures, but it must have cost millions. When Chung, a graduate student at the University of Queensland, brought Widder into the lab and started fast-forwarding through the video, the scientists were already a week into a six-week expedition with nothing significant to show. Producer-types were growing tense.

As Chung skipped through footage, Widder finally saw it. The tips of three huge tentacles creeped up out of the lower right corner of the screen, then undulated in front of the camera and showed off impressive rows of suckers. "I was just blown away," says Widder, "I must have said, 'Oh, my God!' about five times." She didn't fully trust that they had "captured" a giant until Steve O'Shea, a marine biologist from New Zealand, and Kubodera confirmed it was, in fact, the elusive Architeuthis dux. On the Discovery documentary you see Kubodera's face light up, then, "Oh, you've done it." Widder yells, "Yes!"

The expedition leaders didn't tell the crew what had happened at first, because they were headed to port for the Fourth of July and feared that too much drinking and talking might lead to a breach of the news they hoped to keep secret until they could get documentaries out.

NHK and Discovery couldn't have asked for a more dramatic story to unfold over the coming days if they had trained giant squid and given them a script. Medusa had a total of five encounters with the giants, and each time they showed just a little more leg. Several days after the first encounter, a squid came into full view, arms waving, attacking Medusa. Widder says the sighting supports her burglar-alarm hypothesis — the squid didn't go after the eJelly that was producing a mock alarm signal, but the big thing close to it.

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