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Giant squid caught off Louisiana coast

NEW ORLEANS – Government scientists off Louisiana’s coast reached down more than 1,500 feet and pulled up a giant squid – the first ever caught alive in the Gulf of Mexico.

The last time scientists got a giant squid from the gulf to study was in 1954. The animal was floating, dead on the water.

This one – an immature animal about 19 feet long and 103 pounds – was alive when it was netted July 30 during a practice trawl for a study planned in January of the endangered sperm whales in the northern Gulf of Mexico and their food supply.

“We don’t study the deep water much. When we do, we find pretty spectacular things. This is a good example of that,” said Michael Vecchione, a squid expert at the Smithsonian Institution.

It’s “almost certainly” Architeuthis dux, found in the western North Atlantic. The length from the tip of its mantle to the end of its two long tentacles (squid also have eight shorter arms) indicates that it’s probably a female, since they grow much bigger than males, and probably was immature, Vecchione said.

But, since it was dead by the time it was hauled onto the deck and was frozen on shipboard – it was far too big for any specimen bottle – that can’t be confirmed until it’s thawed and injected with formaldehyde by scientists in hazmat suits.

Most giant squid – perhaps an average of one or two a year – are pulled up off Spain and New Zealand, which have deep-water fisheries, said Vecchione, director for NOAA’s Fisheries Service’s National Systemics Laboratory. They’re usually around the continental slope where relatively shallow water drops off into the deep sea.

Vecchione said this squid’s main scientific significance is confirmation that sperm whales found in the northern gulf, often surprisingly near the heavily traveled shipping lanes at the mouth of the Mississippi River, have a local source of their main food.