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Giant squid seen on camera in ocean for the first time

A Japanese-led team of scientists has captured the first-ever live images of a giant squid alive in the ocean. The elusive mollusc, which researchers have searched for repeatedly, was finally spotted deep underwater.

The footage of the three meter-long (10 feet) giant squid was taken last July near the Ogasawara islands, 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of Tokyo.

It was filmed from a manned submersible during one of 100 dives in the Pacific Ocean as part of a joint expedition by Japanese public broadcaster NHK, Discovery Channel and Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science.

NHK released photographs ahead of this Sunday's show about the encounter. Discovery Channel will air its program on January 27.

Difficult to research

The small submersible, rigged with lights invisible to both human and cephalopod eyes, was thought to be the key to finding the giant squid.

Little is known about the giant squid. Its harsh environment, living in the dark at extreme water pressures, makes it difficult for scientists to conduct research. Specimens have washed ashore before, but this is the first time the creature has been filmed in its normal habitat.

Tsunemi Kubodera, a zoologist at the National Museum of Nature and Science who led the team, sat with a cameraman and the submersible's pilot as they released a one meter-long squid as bait.

"If you try and approach making a load of noise, using a bright white light, then the squid won't come anywhere near you. That was our basic thinking," said Kubodera.

"So we sat there in the pitch black, using a near-infrared light invisible even to the human eye, waiting for the giant squid to approach."

An important step

Though small by giant squid standards - the largest sometimes grow to 13 meters in length - filming it in its natural habitat is an important step in understanding the creature, researchers said.

"It was stunning; I couldn't have dreamt that it would be so beautiful. It was such a wonderful creature," said Kubodera.

The elusive beast is thought to be the inspiration for the myth of the "kraken," a squid-like sea monster that was blamed for sinking ships near Norway in the 18th century, but Kubodera says the creature is much more docile in real life.

"A giant squid essentially lives a solitary existence, swimming about all alone in the deep sea. It doesn't live in a group," he said. "So when I saw it, well, it looked to me like it was rather lonely."

dr/rc (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)