24 January 2014
There have always stories about flying squid, but no actual photographs until Jun Yamamoto of Hokkaido University and his team took pictures of squid in flight in 2011. Yamamoto said, “[W]e should no longer consider squid as things that live only in the water.” The team’s study and photos appeared in Marine Biology.
Yamamoto and his team were in the Pacific Ocean east of Toyko tracking a shoal of squid. Suddenly, about 20 of the 8 inch long creatures shot out of the water and into the air. Squid launch themselves by shooting a jet of water. Once in the air, these ten-legged creatures not only form make-shift wings by opening their fins and spreading out their legs, but even flap their fins to stay in the air little bit longer. Gliding through the air for up to 100 feet, they fold in their fins just before re-entering the water. Their whole flight takes about 3 seconds.
Biologists, themselves, had seen and reported flying squid. That some squid “fly” was an accepted scientific fact. After their own sighting, Biologists Silvia Maciá and Michael Robinson of the University of Miami gathered similar reports from other scientists and co-authored a study published in 2004 in the Journal of Molluscan Studies.
Even before Yamamoto’s photos, there was something more than eye-witness reports. There was, what you might call, circumstantial evidence. What was the “smoking gun?” A lot of “morning-after encounters” in which squid were found on the decks of ships — in the morning. Researches assumed that the night-feeding squid had wandered into shallow waters. When they were frightened, they “took flight” with some unlucky flyers landing, not in the sea, but on the deck of a ship.
Before the Hokkaido University team caught their photos of squid in flight, there was little photographic evidence. Retired geologist and amateur photographer Bob Hulse had taken a few photos off the coast of Brazil. But, for researchers, the details in these photos didn’t reveal a lot about how squid fly.
The photographs taken by Yamamoto and his team are a real achievement. Catching squid in flight is extremely rare and all agree that flights “happen so quickly.” “You really have to be in the right place in the right time.”
Other “Thursdays” about Animals: