TOKYO - The giant squid can be found in books and in myths, but for the first time, a team of Japanese scientists has captured on film one of the most mysterious creatures of the deep sea in its natural habitat.
The team led by Tsunemi Kubodera, from the National Science Museum in Tokyo, tracked the 26-foot long Architeuthis as it attacked prey nearly 3,000 feet deep off the coast of Japan's Bonin islands.
"We believe this is the first time a grown giant squid has been captured on camera in its natural habitat," said Kyoichi Mori, a marine researcher who co-authored a piece in Wednesday's issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
The camera was operated by remote control during research at the end of October 2004, Mori told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Mori said the giant squid, purplish red like its smaller brethren, attacked its quarry aggressively, calling into question the image of the animal as lethargic and slow moving.
"Contrary to belief that the giant squid is relatively inactive, the squid we captured on film actively used its enormous tentacles to go after prey," Mori said.
"It went after some bait that we had on the end of the camera and became stuck, and left behind a tentacle" about six yards long, Mori said.
Kubodera, also reached by the AP, said researchers ran DNA tests on the tentacle and found it matched those of other giant squids found around Japan.
"But other sightings were of smaller, or very injured squids washed toward the shore - or of parts of a giant squid," Kubodera said. "This is the first time a full-grown, healthy squid has been sighted in its natural environment in deep water."
Kubodera said the giant squid's tentacle would not grow back, but the squid's life was not in danger.
Jim Barry, a marine biologist at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, has searched for giant squid on his own expeditions without luck.
"It's the holy grail of deep sea animals," he said. "It's one that we have never seen alive, and now someone has video of one."
New Zealand's leading authority on the giant squid, marine biologist Steve O'Shea, praised the Japanese team's feat.
"Through sheer ... determination the guy has gone on and done it," said O'Shea, chief marine scientist at the Auckland University of Technology, who is not linked to the Japanese research.
O'Shea said he hopes to capture juvenile giant squid and grow them in captivity. He captured 17 of them five years ago but they died in captivity.
"Our reaction is one of tremendous relief that the so-called ... race (to film the giant squid) is over ... because the animal has consumed the last eight or nine years of my life," O'Shea said of the film.
Giant squid have long attracted human fascination, appearing in myths of the ancient Greeks, as well as Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Scientific interest in the animals has surged in recent years as more specimens have been caught in commercial fishing nets or found washed up on shores.
Kubodera would make no claims about the scientific significance of his team's work.
"As for the impact our discovery will have on marine research, I'll leave to other researchers to decide," he said.
Other biologists saidi they expected the video would provide insight on the animal's behavior underwater.
"Nobody has been able to observe a large giant squid where it lives," said Randy Kochevar, a deep sea biologist also with the Monterey aquarium. "There are people who said it would never be done."