When a group of shipwreck explorers ventured nearly 2,800 feet below sea level, they weren’t expecting a mysterious creature to swim into view.
The team spotted what “looked like this little, tiny bump,” Mattie Rodrigue, science program lead for OceanX, said in an Oct. 6 YouTube video. “But that bump was about 100 meters long and about 20 (to) 30 meters tall.”
She and her team wanted to find out if it was a shipwreck or even a giant rock during their Red Sea OceanXplorer’s Maiden Voyage in October 2020, according to the video.
The researchers were conducting an ecosystem survey of a completely unexplored area of the Neom region in the Northern Red Sea — but the potential discovery was too good to pass up.
So Rodrigue said explorers sent a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to investigate when they saw a mysterious creature that would leave the entire crew “frozen in absolute shock.”
“I will never forget what happened next for as long as I live,” Rodrigue said in the video. “All of a sudden, as we’re looking at the bow of the shipwreck, this massive creature comes into view, takes a look at the ROV and curls its entire body around the bow of the wreck.”
Rodrigue said the team first thought it was a “giant squid” that was larger than humans, she said in the video.
Identity of mystery creature revealed
The identity of the mysterious creature was confirmed a year later.
It ended up being the “giant form” of a purpleback flying squid, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History zoologist Mike Vecchione said in the video.
Despite its massive size, the creature wasn’t the “giant squid” Rodrigue and her team thought it was due to its body proportions and the shape of its fins, according to Vecchione.
The largest giant squid ever found was nearly 43 feet long, according to the Smithsonian. The eyes itself are the size of dinner plates.
The purpleback flying squid is typically much smaller, reaching up to 650 mm, or 2 feet, according to the Encyclopedia of Life, which is hosted by the National Museum of Natural History.
The squid is part of the sthenoteuthis oualaniensis species and is known to live in the Red Sea, Vecchione said.
Rodrigue wondered if the squids inhabited shipwrecks like the one they found, but ”there’s no actual record of members of that family aggregating on a structure like that,” Vecchione said.
“It was kind of like an intentional made-for-TV moment it felt like almost because you get this massive creature with the shipwreck in the background,” Rodrigue said.
The OceanX crew went down to the shipwreck site three times and spotted what Rodrigue thought could be the same squid.
“You know, anytime that you see weird deep-sea squids or octopodes, you know where I am,” Vecchione said.