It is like a scene from an old wives’ tale about the giant, tentacled kraken dragging shipping vessels to their doom — two Humboldt squid, flashing an angry red, attack a Dual Deep Worker submersible containing two Greenpeace USA divers on an expedition in the Bering Sea. In a Vine video shot by one of the divers, the two large cephalopods, also commonly referred to as “jumbo squid” or “red devils,” rush at the submersible while spewing vision-obscuring clouds of ink.
The video feeds the perception that the large mollusks – smaller than the elusive giant squid, but still weighing up to 100 pounds and measuring as long as 6.2 feet — are aggressively violent and dangerous to humans. The creatures typically range from 660 to 2,300 feet below the surface of the water, and roam off the coasts of British Columbia all the way down to Chile. In fact, its name is derived from the Humboldt Current off the western coast of South America.
Much feared by fishermen and divers alike, the animals are said to be more aggressive than many of their calmer mollusk brethren like the octopus. The color-producing chromatophores in their skin generate a brilliant color display – switching from white to blood red — and many scientists believe the changes in hue are how the squid communicate with one another. Adding to their fearsome image, the animals possess over 100 suckers on their tentacles, each lined with sharp “teeth” used to dig into their prey.
The creatures have long inspired writers and explorers alike. In a 2006 article for Outside Magazine, Tim Zimmermann describes an underwater encounter with the squid.
“I see a jig rising past me, and the hooked squid is flashing red and white like a neon sign. It’s a stunning display, and another extraordinary aspect of Humboldt squid behavior,” Zimmermann writes of a just-caught squid. “You can almost feel the squid’s emotion being transmitted through the water. In this case, it appears to be fear – or at least a vain plea for mercy,”
As with Zimmerman’s description of the ocean dwellers, many scientists believe that the animals are not necessarily aggressive until provoked. The squids’ response in the video might have been instigated by the submarine’s bright lights. While Greenpeace has not released any more information on the encounter, the video has been making the rounds on social media. On Twitter, some users reveal their fear of the animals like @logan607 who writes, “this is why I never leave #Manhattan,” while others share their fascination with the creatures, with @crave even tweeting that the squid are “pretty cute actually.”