Last night, on the season finale of the Discovery Channel show Curiosity, the world got its first look at one of the most elusive and mysterious creatures on the planet: the giant squid.
The kraken's cameo would never have been possible, however, if not for the futuristic submarine used to film it. Jim Harris, a pilot and employee of Vero Beach-based Triton Submarines, tells New Times what it's like to go fishing for a sea monster.
Harris has seen some gnarly stuff in a submarine. In his 25 years as a sub pilot and technician, he has guided air-tight contraptions alongside shivers of sharks in the Caribbean, smacks of jellyfish in the Atlantic, and sperm whales in the frigid waters off Antarctica.
But even Harris was shocked when, during a dive off the coast of Japan last summer, he turned on the lights on his spherical sub to illuminate a squid the size of a sedan.
His remarkable find didn't come easily. The company for which Harris works, Triton Submarines, had been hired to pilot Japanese squid scientist Tsunemi Kubodera and a cameraman to the depths off the Ogasawara Islands. Using Triton's high-tech subs with spherical, transparent hulls, the team was on a long-shot mission to find and film the boneless behemoths.
Giant squid, also known as kraken in pirate lore, can grow to more than 40 feet in length. Yet, when Harris arrived in Japan in early July, Triton pilots and Kubodera had already been at sea for a week without spotting one of the elusive ocean monsters. But Harris struck squid gold on his first dive.
Harris's bright-yellow sub was the size of a German Panzer tank. Scientists had attached a three-foot squid to the sub as a lure and outfitted the machine with ultra-sensitive infrared cameras. As the sub sank slowly into the darkening sea, the only light was a tiny LED flashing blue, green, and red.
Two thousand feet down, however, a spasm of excitement ran through the small sub cabin.
"All of a sudden everyone started going nuts," Harris says. When he glanced at the infrared camera screen, "I could see these big tentacles come out of nowhere and wrap around our bait squid."
Harris flipped on the submarine's powerful lights. Right in front of them was one of the rarest creatures on Earth: a 10-foot squid with eyes the size of grapefruit staring back at them.
"It looked like it was plated with gold leaf," Harris says of the beautiful aquatic beast. "It was absolutely stunning."
Confronted with the kraken, the three men were speechless. They watched the animal twist and turn like an aquatic spirit for 18 minutes. At one point, Kubodera said: "It looks rather lonely."
Finally, as the sub reached 3,000 feet beneath the sea, the squid vanished back into the ocean ink. Further dives failed to repeat the underwater encounter.
Harris is humble about the experience. He shrugs off disappointment that the squid was not, in fact, that gigantic.
"A lot of people want it to be a massive animal as big as a school bus, but it wasn't. It was the species we were searching for, and it was a beautiful animal, and it was alive. And that's what's important."
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Harris says the footage is important for scientists like Kubodera who want to study the rarely seen species.
"Who knows when anyone will ever see one again?" Harris says.