Great Eyes o’ the Sea

The news is full of stories about how a giant squid was filmed in U.S. waters for the first time. Here’s a slightly enhanced version of the clip that has caused all of the commotion and a link to the companion article by ABC7 that published this clip.


Wondrous 10-foot giant squid spotted deep in Gulf of Mexico (Danny Clemens, ABC7 New Orleans)

Here is the web site of the researchers that did the filming.
Here Be Monsters: We Filmed a Giant Squid in America’s Backyard (Sönke Johnsen and Edie Widder, NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research)

The accomplishment was applaudable, but I was a bit disappointed about the clip.

Where were the eyes?

The text in the video said that the giant squid can have eyeballs that measure up to ten inches in diameter — that’s almost a foot! Yet the eyes weren’t actually captured in the video.

Luckily there’s another place where you can see a giant squid’s eyes.

While this was the first time a giant squid was filmed in U.S. waters, it wasn’t the first time that one’s been filmed. That happened back in 2012 when researchers from Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science filmed one in the Ogasawara archipelago, and that time they did get a fleeting shot of the giant squid’s humongous eyes.

Here’s a clip from Discovery News (now Seeker) that covers that sighting as well as some background like how giant squids have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom and how sightings of them probably led to the legends about kraken.

Here’s another clip from CBS News that features Edith Widder, a leading member of the teams that filmed giant squids, explaining how they use an artificial bioluminescent jelly fish to do it.

Here are some more resources about the first mission that filmed a giant squid.
Search for the Giant Squid Mission (OceanX)
Giant squid filmed in Pacific depths, Japan scientists report (Shingo Ito, Phys.org)

Giant squids aren’t the only cephalopods with great eyes — octopuses’ eyes are also neat.

Here’s a mesmorizing video posted by USA Today that shows a rainbow colored blanket octopus with a closeup of its eye at the end.

When you’re looking eye to eye with a squid or octopus, it’s easy to imagine that they would see you in the same way that you would see them, but that’s not so. Until a couple of years ago, researchers believed that since cephalopods only have a single type of photoreceptor, they would be colorblind. Then in 2016 some researchers suggested that the truth may be more intriguing than that — their eyes may work like a prism. Here’s a video about that and a link to the the research that it was based upon.


Spectral discrimination in color blind animals via chromatic aberration and pupil shape (Alexander L. Stubbs and Christopher W. Stubbs, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Of course, cephalopods aren’t the only creatures in the sea with great eyes. Plenty of marine mammals have wonderful eyes, too. Here’s a lovely video filmed and edited by Sally Bartel for Save The Whales that brings you eye to eye with whales, dolphins and an affectionate manatee who will even come up and give you a smootch!

They were all beautiful, but I must confess to being partial to whale’s eyes. In fact, one of my favorite 360° videos of all time is TheBlu because at one point a blue whale comes up and looks you right in the eye for a bit.

TheBlu is awesome, but it is just an animation. There’s another non-360° video that was posted by Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris that’s even more impressive — it takes you eyeball to eyeball with a real humpback whale!

Again, since those huge creatures are also mammals, it’s easy to assume that their eyes would see you in much the same way as you would see them. While that’s more true than it is with the cephalopods, it’s still not really the case. Here are a couple of resources that will give you sense of how whales might really see you.
You’re Eye-to-Eye With a Whale in the Ocean—What Does It See? (Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic)
Whale Senses, Sight (Whales Forever)

Finally, I’ll leave you with this 360° video from the American Museum of Natural History. It’s a bit slow in the middle but features some nice eye to eye shots near the beginning and end.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into seeing eye to eye with some giants of the sea.

Find out more about animals and the ocean