Observing a giant squid in the wild for the first time, Kubodera's team took photos of a 26-foot-long, purplish-red sea monster attacking its bait nearly 3,000 feet undersea, then struggling for more than four hours to get free. The squid pulled so hard on the line that held the shrimp bait that it severed one of its own tentacles.
"It was quite an experience to feel the still-functioning tentacle on my hand," Kubodera, a researcher with Japan's National Science Museum, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "But the photos were even better."
The mysterious giant squids, formally called Architeuthis, have for centuries been the stuff of legend, appearing in the myths of ancient Greece or attacking a submarine in Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." But they had previously been seen only when they were caught in fishing nets or washed ashore dead or dying — never alive in their natural habitat.
But the Japanese team, capping a three-year effort, filmed the creature in September of last year, finding what one researcher called "the holy grail" of deep sea animals.
The results were not announced until this week, when they were published in Wednesday's issue of the British journal, the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Kyoichi Mori, of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association, co-authored the study.
Largely because of the sheer difficulty of finding the deep-sea dwelling giant, the team's photos were cheered by researchers around the world.
"That's getting footage of a real sea monster," said Randy Kochevar, a deep sea biologist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. "Nobody has been able to observe a large giant squid where it lives. There are people who said it would never be done. It's really an incredible accomplishment."
The photos — taken with strobe lights at 30 second intervals — also shed some new light on the mysterious squid's behavior.
"We think it is a much more active predator than was previously thought," Kubodera said Wednesday. "It had previously been seen as more lethargic, and not as strong."