The programme began with calling the deep ocean “the final frontier” a la Star Trek. It’s true that sci-fi writers have taken inspiration from the ocean for creating works set in outer space, with the spaceships resembling submarines and the crew having naval ranks. The reason for this is because much of outer space is unknown, and though it’s on our own planet the depths of the ocean are the least explored by humans. It’s described on the programme as “an alien world”, especially the depths of the ocean from 200 metres down, where the ocean starts getting beyond the reach of the sun and becomes pitch black, to 1000 metres down, which is as deep as it is possible for humans to go. That area is known colloquially as “the Twilight zone” to marine biologists. As sunlight doesn’t reach there, some creatures can create their own light, which is known as bioluminescence. We get so see some of this in the programme, and the creatures can produce some gorgeous colourful light displays. The whole of this “Twilight zone” looks bizarre and alien to us, with the darkness and creatures which appear formless. They have of course adapted to this particular environment, but its an environment which humans will seldom encounter. Some of the sights are unsettling, such as a jellyfish which we are able to see through that it has a live fish inside it, doomed to be digested. It may be waiting a while too, as food is scarce there so the jellyfish is saving it for later.
When creating fictional aliens you can see why scif-fi writers have sometimes looked to the sea for inspiration, and it is very common to the point of cliché for aliens to have tentacles like an octopus or indeed a squid.
Giant squids have been a source of myth and legend, with stories of them sinking ships and fighting whales going back a very long time, but it was also thought they were a completely mythical creature until the remains of one were discovered about 150 years ago. Footage of them alive had never been recorded though, and this programme focused on the efforts to do just that.
A team of scientists was led by Dr. Tsunemi Kobodeka, an expert of giant squids. Over the years he and other scientists had discovered evidence of giant squids near the east coast of Japan’s Ogasawara islands, and they had managed to narrow down the rough area where they could be found. They would explore this using high technology like powerful cameras and submersibles which could cope with the depth, pressure and darkness of the deep sea.
Among the experiments they used were putting the frozen remains of a giant squid into a blender, hoping that the resulting “squid juice” (I can’t see that ever taking off as a drink!) would contain a chemical which would attract giant squids. They didn’t find any giant squids using this method as it turned out, but it did attract other types of squid, which suggests that they may have similar scents and senses of smell. One of the main experiments was using an underwater camera and a machine which could display lights like the Atolla jellyfish in a way to attract giant squid. Through this they were able to take the first ever pictures of a giant squid alive in its natural habitat. They had hoped to be able to film a live giant squid. They attempted this by taking the submersible and camera down using a diamondback squid as bait. They got their wish as eventually a giant squid arrived.
It was gold coloured and shiny, which they weren’t expecting, and had an enormous eye. Just from watching on the TV, the sequence with the giant squid had an eerie sort of beauty to it and it looks almost graceful with the way it moves underwater. They were able to film the giant squid for 23 minutes, and it was described in the narration by David Attenborough as the most moving minutes for Dr. Kobodeka in 40 years of studying squids.
It was good to see such groundbreaking footage of the giant squid in this programme and at just 45 minutes runtime the information was presented clearly and concisely.