The team led by Tsunemi Kubodera, from the National Science Museum in Tokyo, tracked the 26-foot-long Architeuthis as it attacked prey at a depth of 3,000 feet 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 an article on the finding in Wednesday's issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
The camera was operated by remote control during research in the fall of 2004, capping a three-year search for the squid around the Bonin islands, 1,000 kilometers (670 miles) south of Tokyo, Mori told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The feat was praised by researchers as an important milestone in observation of the enormous creatures, which appeared in the writings of the ancient Greeks as well as Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
"It's the holy grail of deep sea animals," said Jim Barry, a marine biologist at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California who has searched for giant squid without luck. "It's one that we have never seen alive, and now someone has video of one."
New Zealand's leading authority on giant squid, marine biologist Steve O'Shea, hailed the Japanese team's feat, although he said the photographs in themselves would probably not advance knowledge about the animals much.
"Our reaction is one of tremendous relief that the so-called ... race is over ... because the animal has consumed the last eight or nine years of my life," he said. O'Shea added that Kubodera's determination in tracking down the animal "is truly commendable. I think it is fantastic."
Mori said the squid, which was purplish red like smaller squid, attacked its quarry aggressively.
"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 six meters 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. The animal — which has eight arms and two longer feeding tentacles — was not in danger of dying from the injury, he said.
"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."
"I always suspected that giant squid lived in deep water, and that they moved as actively as ordinary squid," Kubodera added. "Our discovery confirms this."
The researcher, however, 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 it to other researchers to decide," he said.
Giant squids have long attracted human fascination and imagination, but almost everything scientists know about them has come from dead specimens found beached or floating in the ocean. The largest ones have eyes the size of dinner plates. Scientific interest in the animals has surged in recent years as more specimens have been caught in commercial fishing nets.
Researchers said the quest to learn more about the animals would go on.
O'Shea, who said there were five equally large or larger species of giant squid that have yet to be photographed, has pursued the beasts in the hope of capturing juveniles and raising them successfully in captivity.
O'Shea, the chief marine scientist at the Auckland University of Technology, enclosed 17 of them five years ago, but they died in captivity.
"We are using this charismatic mega fauna to lure people in to ... far more important issues such as conservation ... of these magnificent creatures," he said.
By focusing on the giant squid and protecting it by closing areas of coastal habitat, many smaller species were also being protected from bottom trawling and other fishing methods, he added.
Kubodera said he hoped to get more funding to carry on research, possibly to capture videos of giant squids in the same area. Currently, the project is funded only by the National Science Museum.
The next hunt for the giant squid will be in mid-October, Kubodera said. No giant squid were found in an earlier hunt this month.Reuse content