NIWA catches giant squid and glow-in-the-dark sharks

Scientists from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) are thrilled after pulling up a giant squid from the depths.

A giant squid caught off the east coast of Canterbury in New Zealand in January of 2020 - it is being measured by Darren Stevens. Source: Brit Finucci

In a release today, agency officials said the squid was an unplanned discovery during a hoki survey voyage on the Chatham Rise east of Canterbury.

A trawl net was retrieved from 442 metres down on January 21, and NIWA scientists were surprised to see huge tentacles in the net.

Voyage leader and NIWA fisheries scientist Darren Stevens said it took six people to lift the four-metre squid, weighing about 110kg, onto a tarpaulin.

The squid was examined and dissected by Auckland University of Technology squid researcher Ryan Howard, who extracted several valuable parts including the eyes, intestines, head and reproductive organs.

"We managed to get an 110kg animal down to two 25kg boxes in terms of what was actually kept," Mr Stevens said.

"We took the stomach because virtually nothing is known about a giant squid's diet because every time people seem to catch one, there's very rarely anything in their stomachs.

"Getting two giant squid eyes is apparently enough for a scientific paper.

"They're really rare, and you need a fresh one - so it was a really unique set of circumstances to get two fresh eyes."

A Belgian researcher on board - Dr Jérôme Mallefet of UCLouvain - also got some amazing images of bioluminescent sharks on the voyage.

Two bioluminescent shark species caught off New Zealand's east coast - a seal shark, left, and a lucifer dogfish. Source: Dr J. Mallefet FNRS Belgium

Dr Mallefet sad 62 of 540, or 11 per cent of all known shark species, can produce bioluminescent light, and most are small species that live in near-total darkness at depths of more than 200m.

Dr Mallefet set up a darkened room aboard NIWA's MV Tangaroa vessel to photograph three shark species - the southern lantern shark, the lucifer dogfish and a seal shark.

"I was so happy - I was dreaming to get pictures of bioluminescent sharks [on the voyage] and I got them," he said.

NIWA has carried out Chatham Rise trawl surveys since 1992 to provide information used to sustainably manage fisheries for hoki, hake, ling and other deepwater commercial fish species.

The research is funded by Fisheries New Zealand.