Kraken Project; In search of the Giant Squid | Full Documentaries – Planet Doc Full Documentaries

Kraken Project; In search of the Giant Squid | Full Documentaries – Planet Doc Full Documentaries


With our first steps into space, we search in the hope of finding even the slightest form of life. And, nonetheless, we forget that among the planets that share the energy of the Sun there is one marked by the gift of life, over half of the surface area of which still remains unexplored. This planet was given the wrong name; it should, in all justice, have been called Water. Over half the Earth is covered by the oceans. And down there, hidden beneath the crushing, dark weight of tonnes of water, lies an unexplored world, a world up to now forbidden to man, a world about which scientists know less than our solar system, the world of the final frontier: the ocean depths. In the perpetual darkness of the ocean bed thousands of unknown beings thrive, never seen by man. This is the dwelling place of the monsters that for centuries fed the legends and mythology; the home of the strangest, most fascinating creatures of the sea; he kingdom of a legendary animal which the Norwegian sailors called the Kraken and which, up to now, no one has ever managed to see alive. This story began at the end of the Autumn of 2001. The news of the appearance of yet another giant squid on the Asturian coast was the definitive starting point for a project as ambitious as it was exciting: to try to be the first to get images of a live giant squid in its natural environment. For the members of Transglobe Films it was a formidable challenge which we had been planning for over two years. Up to then, no one had achieved it, but, with this latest specimen washed up along the coast of Asturias, we decided to undertake the campaign in search of the legendary giant squid. And our first steps led us to the place containing the largest collection in the world of these mysterious animals, a little-known museum in the Asturian town of Luarca. At the Coordination Centre for the Study and Protection of Marine Species, a naturalist in love with the sea had spent many years studying the legendary marine monster. Since time immemorial, giant squid had appeared along the shores of Asturias. For the local people, it was simply one of many creatures that the sea cast onto its beaches and, as there was no way of making use of them, no one paid any attention to them. But Luis Laria understood the importance of what was happening there. At first, Luis Laria thought it was simply a chance occurrence, but in time he began to understand that there, just a short distance from the coast of Luarca, here was a stable population of giant squid, a unique treasure that the world ought to know about. Though unknown to the general public, this is the most important collection of giant squid in the world. Today, the CEPESMA has 19 and every year new examples are added to its collection. And the giant squid are not the only mysterious cephalopods of the ocean depths to be found in the museum. These mysterious squid have attracted the most eminent world specialists in cephalopods, in search of the tracks of an animal that has eluded man since the origin of our species. Because, though formidable in size, the giant squid remains a mystery for the scientific community and a marine monster for the immense majority; a monster whose legend began many centuries ago From the very start of history, man has found in the sea a home for his demons and superstitions. Those who crossed the oceans in fragile wooden ships lived for months in the fear of a liquid world that was forbidden to them and which frequently killed entire crews. It is therefore understandable that many of the creatures that came to the surface of that shadowy universe were described by the first chroniclers as terrible beasts, hybrids between the reality and their feverish, terrified imaginations. Among these legendary beasts, there was one whose legend would grow in time: the Kraken. This was a fearsome monster with many arms, which attacked the ships and dragged them down into the depths; an enormous octopus whose strength and malice for centuries terrified the sailors of northern Europe. But behind the legend of the monstrous Kraken lay a species of squid which the Danish naturalist baptised with the name Architeuthis: a real squid, yes, but an animal which, with its over 20 metres in length and 1,000 kilos in weight fully lived up to the reputation of the legendary Kraken. And, nonetheless, an animal about which we still know almost nothing A small fragment that has revealed a surprising piece of information. The Architeuthis is the animal with the highest rate of growth in the animal kingdom. Thanks to the statoliths, we now know that these squid grow around 1 cm a day, which rapidly turns the tiny larvae into the largest invertebrates on Earth. And, as the detective work progresses, each new discovery in the bodies found helps us to approach the challenge of entering the world of the Kraken and trying to see it alive. If we have not been able to see the giant squid alive, it is because its habitat is the depths of the ocean at between 300 and 1,500 metres. Down there, the pressure is tremendous. Where on the surface we are subject to one atmosphere, equivalent to 1 kg/cm2, at a depth of 1,000 metres that pressure is multiplied by 100. It is a crushing world shrouded in perpetual darkness. Very little food reaches it from the surface and strange hunters lie in wait, armed with terrible weapons. Large mouths and sharp fangs to ensure none of the scarce prey escape in the darkness. Adaptation to this extreme world has generated strange beings, disconcerting forms which, to our eyes, are easily converted into monsters. This universe without frontiers, where perpetual darkness reigns and the pressure is crushing, was the world in which we wanted to place our cameras in search of the legendary squid. A challenge, which required meticulous preparation and specialised equipment. We had spent just over a year planning the campaign on paper. Now, long months of work lay ahead of us, to materialise all the technical devices and means which would enable us to submerge our cameras into the depths of Carrandi in Asturias. The countdown had begun. We had the advice of specialists in submarine technology and also counted on the collaboration of expert biologists from the Marine Research Institute and the National Natural Science Museum. Onboard two oceanographic ships, the Investigador and the Científico, we spent long weeks checking the water-tightness, he resistance and the sensitivity of special cameras capable of recording in the extreme conditions of pressure and darkness of the ocean depths. Time was running out. We wanted to undertake the campaign at the end of summer and the Cantabrian sea was not an easy place in which to work. While we checked the stability and floatability of the buoys designed to carry the cameras, our chief engineer, Joaquín de Gracia, made the final adjustments to the key element in our campaign: a case specially designed for the Kraken Project. Inside it, a sophisticated system would make it possible to record – continuously, for the 15 days of the campaign – the images captured by the submarine cameras and store them on a series of hard drives. The complexity of the system was due to the fact that it had to have total autonomy, a decisive factor in the campaign. The case would remain inside a floating buoy and would be connected by a thick optic fibre cable to the structure carrying the camera, a structure with an adjustable lighting system, infrared lights and different acoustic and optical signals which would serve as lures. The buoy and camera system, whose nerve centre was the recording case, would be autonomous and would be regulated from our ships. And, to cover the search area we had chosen, we had three similar sets of equipment which defined an equilateral triangle inside which we would move around with our ships. The long-awaited day finally came. On board the ships Investigador and Científico, belonging to the company Investigaciones Marinas, we set sail for the Carrandi fishing ground. We were not alone on our adventure. In order to carry out the campaign, we had requested an exclusion zone to keep the study area free from maritime traffic and the patrol boat Mouro, of the Spanish navy, accompanied us to guarantee compliance with this. Finally, two years after we had first considered the idea, we were setting off in search of the legendary giant squid. The first mission of the campaign consisted of carrying out a bathymetry which would enable us to establish the points chosen for the positioning of our cameras. At 43º 56′ N 5º 29′ W, we located the so-called Pozo de la Vaca, a narrowing of the submarine canyon where we would place the three cameras at depths of 800, 700 and 500 m, respectively. Now, we were sailing over the Carrandi trench, the territory of the enigmatic Kraken. The Carrandi Trench, less than 30 kilometres from the coast of Asturias, sharply falls to unfathomable depths, down to over 3,000 metres. At the start of its drop from the continental platform, Carrandi forms underwater canyons along which the currents drag large amounts of nutrients on which enormous shoals of small fish feed, and these, in turn, attract the large predators, among them the giant squid. And here, in the so-called Pozo de la Vaca, the land relief enabled us to locate the three cameras in different substrata and at different depths within the influence of one of these currents. If designing, constructing and testing the cameras was a complex task, positioning them at the chosen places represented a truly formidable challenge. The structure of the buoys, ballasted with a dead weight of 3,000 kg, weighed over five tonnes, and the Cantabrian sea does not make things easy. Finally, having stabilised the anchor of the first buoy, the time came to send one of our cameras into the depths of the ocean. The air was thick with emotion. We were going to open a window onto an unknown world which no one had ever seen. As the camera descended, the optic fibre umbilical cord that joined it to the buoy indicated the depth of descent. We positioned this first one at 700 metres on one of the walls of the underwater canyon. Now, all we had to do was wait for the signal which would reach us live and by radio, from the first buoy that was already freely floating above the Carrandi Trench. Inside the viewing cabin, which we named Calypso, the tension was similar to that which preceded the first moon landing. We were going to be the first to violate the perpetual darkness of the ocean depths. The first to shine a light into the primeval darkness of the Cantabrian Sea. The first images showed a black, empty world as the camera descended. But, after long minutes, the lights began to be reflected. The descent was coming to an end. And, finally, solid ground. The reference marker raised clouds of sediment on a surface of rock and silt where thousands of small invertebrates welcomed us. It was an emotional moment. We were discovering a new world and these were the first images. 0:00:24:46.289 That same night, we would receive surprising confirmation that our camera was indeed in the right place. A trawler brought on board a giant squid caught at barely 300 metres from the outer limit of our first buoy. This squid, 6 m in length, would represent quite a find, as it turned out to be a male, much less frequent and smaller than the females. This was the first male Architeuthis dux caught south of parallel 55ºN in the Atlantic Ocean. And what was more important, the best conserved of all. There could have been no better start to the campaign. Little did we imagine the problems that lay ahead of us. Four days into the campaign, we had already positioned our three buoys. The first one had stabilised at a depth of 612 m. The lure-emitter had started to bring results and the tiny crustaceans that approached, attracted by it, were quickly followed by the hunters of the ocean depths. We worked in four hour shifts to constantly view the monitors as we sailed the area marked out by the buoys, which sent us the signal from the cameras. The second camera rested on the sea bed at 709 m from the surface. To this one, the deepest, we had attached an infrared lens and lights so that the lights would not frighten the animals accustomed to perpetual darkness. We lost quality of image but new shadows around the lure reaffirmed the decision to use infra-reds. The third camera was suspended in the darkness of the water column, at a depth of 530 m. This was the one that least drew our attention during the watch shifts, but, it was the one that would give us the first surprise when small, intermittent lights began to appear, dotted across the darkness. The lights resembled the silhouette of squid, or that’s what it looked like to us, so we were anxious to know the opinion of our experts. Watching the monitors in real time, it was difficult to identify the species that appeared, and even more so if they did so intermittently, but doctors Angel Guerra and Angel González concluded that they must be squid with photophores of the species genera Abralia or Abraliopsis, small light-emitting cephalopods that can reach depths of 800 and 1,000 m, respectively. It was our first encounter with the lights of the ocean depths; below depths of 200 metres, not a single ray of light penetrates the reigning darkness, and so the species of these reaches have developed their own lights. 90% of the species that live in the ocean depths are bioluminescent; that is, they are capable of generating their own light. In a world where the darkness is total and permanent these ghostly lights serve many different purposes. Some use them to attract their prey. Others to deflect the attacks of predators by presenting them with false lures, or to emit alarm signals. And many, simply, to communicate with others of the same species. Among the cephalopods, too, bioluminescence is very widespread and some species have even changed their traditional means of defence, adapting it to this dark world, expelling a stream of luminous ink. Little by little, we were identifying different species of the depths off the coast of Asturias, as they appeared on the monitors of the Calypso. The campaign was progressing as planned, and the hopes that an Architeuthis or a Taningia would appear before our cameras grew day by day. Work progressed as normal on board the Investigador and the Científico. Even the Cantabrian Sea appeared to have declared a truce which facilitated the tasks onboard our ships. But when you work in the depths of the ocean, you know that problems can appear at any moment, without prior warning. On the 17th of November, the alarms of the first buoy went off in the Calypso. One of the buoys had disappeared. There were only two possibilities: either the anchor had broken and the buoy was drifting or a ship had hit it and the buoy had sunk. During the whole day, the Investigador combed the drift zone from the place where the buoy had been anchored, following the direction of the current, while Fernando Santiáñez, its captain, gave notice to the naval command. Little did we imagine at that time that all our efforts would be in vain. The buoy and with it our first case, containing the images recorded over six full days, had been lost forever. But the problems had only just begun. One of the antennae of the buoys was experiencing problems in broadcasting and needed an emergency repair. Shortly afterwards, in the Calypso, the alarm went off, indicating water in one of the cameras. It never rains but it pours. Yet still, morale remained high, despite these many setbacks. We were well aware of the difficulties we would face. We still had many possibilities of coming face to face with the giant squid and we weren’t about to give up now. In addition to the repairs to the flooded camera, the new situation required adjustments in the depth of the other two cameras and our chief engineer managed to make them in record time, remaining awake all night to do so. We had come through the worst days of the campaign. But once more we had images of the ocean depths. We were again on the hunt for the elusive, legendary Kraken. Now, we were working with just two cameras. One of them remained in the water column, at around thirty metres from the sea bed, while the other rested on a surface of silt where, beneath the infra-red light, stealthy fish and crustaceans prowled around our lures. The enthusiasm of the scientists was contagious, as they pronounced hypotheses on the species that appeared on our monitors. And that enthusiasm was more than justified. We were privileged witnesses to a world that no one had ever seen before. Finally, with the two buoys stabilised, we could continue with the envisaged campaign plan. The time had come to use our submarine robot. Before submerging our little remote-control robot, we planned to bait the ocean depths in order to attract the greatest possible number of species, especially the potential prey of the Architeuthis. For this, we had brought with us 1,500 kilos of frozen mackerel and sardines; 1,500 kilos which we had to put into biodegradable bags, then tie these to the sinkers and methodically cast them overboard. To distribute the bait, we had divided up the chosen area, a gently-sloping plain at depths of between 300 and 400 m, into a grid with a total surface area of eight hectares into which we would cast one hundred bags of bait, one for each one of the intersections of the grid. At nightfall, with the baiting completed, the weather began to change. An impressive storm welcomed the Sea Rover, the remote control submarine, whose camera would become our mobile eye in the ocean depths. Armed with a highly-sensitive video camera, our small emissary set off on its journey, shattering the reigning darkness. The robot was controlled from the Calypso and, with the storm, this was no easy task. But it was the counterpoint to the cameras in the buoys while they waited for an Architeuthis to approach, attracted by the bait, the Sea Rover went out in search of it. Little by little, our spy was revealing the secrets of a world which had remained hidden since the very origins of the ocean. The first reflections that came from the ocean depths opened a window onto a different world, a desert of brown silt where large-clawed crabs of the Munida genus stared in astonishment at the unexpected intruder. The underwater currents caused some slight problems on those first steps around the ocean depths. But the Sea Rover continued on its way without major setbacks and the first beings of that region prohibited to man began to appear before our astonished eyes. From the first moments of its journey around the depths of the ocean, the little submarine robot gave information that filled our scientific team with enthusiasm. The fauna of that underwater desert was scarce. The majority of the species that crossed our silent path in search of cephalopods were invertebrates, beings of strange, ethereal appearance that floated in the limitless darkness like extraterrestrial creatures from a distant planet, as unknown and foreign to man as these ocean depths that were now slowly revealing their secrets to us. For three days, the Sea Rover plunged down again and again into that strange lunar landscape where, despite the bait we had scattered, there were very few fish, with only certain crustaceans, pennatulas and the spry and larvae of different species bringing movement to the desert of silt. The absence of life in that apparently inviolate abyss surprised us, but some devastating drag marks reminded us that the hand of man reaches much further than we could possibly imagine. Perhaps these tracks could, in part, be responsible for this deathly quiet. From time to time, the currents disturbed the sea bed and a cloud of sediment filled the dark, barren desert of the depths. Then, calm once more returned and once again we saw sea pens, tube anemones, sea cucumbers, small shrimp and elusive spry… But nothing that revealed the presence of the Kraken. On the night of the 24th, our spirits began to fail. The Architeuthis had still not appeared and time was running out. And then, from the Calypso, the alarm rang out. We all came out of our cabins and headed towards the Calypso knowing that that alarm could be our last opportunity to film a giant squid. On one of our fixed cameras, in the invisible infrared light, a squid of just over one metre in length was prowling round the pilot light of the third buoy. The animal, a Todarodes sagitatus, was an interesting species for our scientists. But its appearance brought the disappointment of not having achieved our objective. The campaign was coming to an end. We had used up all our time and we felt a bitter-sweet sensation. We had not captured images of a living Architeuthis, but we had opened a door for exploration of the Carrandi trench, an area where the existence of the enigmatic giant squid had been demonstrated. Among the members of Transglobe a new desire had been born, even stronger and more determined than that which had brought us to the ocean depths of Carrandi. Our adventure had not ended, we had every intention of returning with our cameras in search of the giant squid. The Kraken Project did not end with the Carrandi campaign. The analysis of the data and specimens gathered, by the scientists of the National Natural Science Museum and members of the Marine Research Institute, would provide important information on the biology of the Architeuthis and its habitat. The male caught during the campaign provided new, valuable knowledge about the reproduction and feeding of the species. And, at the same time as the autopsy was being carried out, the museum’s specimens and archives were used for an in-depth study of the species that appeared in the images captured during the campaign. The specimens from the Museum’s collection of cephalopods and its computerized files were the means used by doctor Oscar Soriano, a member of the Kraken Project, to determine and study each one of the species captured by our cameras in the Carrandi Trench. For weeks, Soriano put his patience to the test as he determined the genera and the species of the fish, crustaceans, planktonic invertebrates and even some small squid obtained from the hard disks of the cases placed in the buoys. The search for the Kraken was, for the time being at least, coming to an end. We had been unable to answer all the questions that would be resolved with a single image of this living legend. And all the members of Transglobe were determined to be the first to achieve it. Because if our campaign made one thing absolutely clear, it is that down there, in the perpetual darkness of the ocean depths off the coast of Asturias, hidden from and oblivious to the activities of man, the giant squid silently prowl.