How the colossal squid swims

Nobody has ever seen a live colossal squid swimming so this is a difficult question to answer. The scientists had to look at how other closely related squid swim and come up with a theory about how the colossal squid moves.

As part of the exhibition we wanted to "bring the squid to life" and develop a 3-D animation of the squid in its environment. So we had to decide how we would show the colossal squid swimming and moving.

See the video of the animation.

Cranchiids or glass squids

Colossal squid are part of the Cranchiidae family, known as the glass squids. There are many videos of squid species swimming, including the glass squids.

Cranchiids or glass squids have a very different outward appearance, or morphology, to most squid. They have forward facing eyes which gives them binocular vision. This also means they cannot hold their arms out directly in front as they wouldn't be able to see! Most other squid have eyes on the sides of the head. They do not have to lift their arms out of their field of vision and can swim with their arms flat.

Cockatoo position - or not?

Most of the time cranchiids hold their arms either up over their heads in the "cockatoo" position, or down in the "reverse cockatoo" position. This underwater video from the NOAA Oceanexplorer website shows a cranchiid squid swimming in the "cockatoo position".

The team think that the colossal squid, like other cranchiids, does not usually swim with its arms held flat out. But there is on-going debate about whether the colossal squid swims in the "cockatoo" position or
"reverse cockatoo".

The team reasoned that if the colossal squid held its arms up in the "cockatoo" position the lower arms would be longer, as they would have to reach further to meet the tips of the upper arms. Careful measurement of the colossal squid's arms showed that the lower arms are longer. The position and direction of the non-swivelling hooks on the arms also suggest that the colossal squid uses the "cockatoo" position.

However this is all just a hypothesis - until someone sees a colossal squid swimming we won't know for sure. This is the process of science!

3-D animation of the squid
Images
Image 01
A sulphur-crested cockatoo showing its yellow crest.

Courtesy of Paddy Ryan, ryanphotographic.com
Image 02
Caribbean reef squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea) swimming in the cockatoo position.

Courtesy of Paddy Ryan, ryanphotographic.com

Resources

Online Video

For more Colossal Squid resources check out the resources section of our website.