Deep below the ocean lives the squid Chiroteuthis, known in Japan by the name Yurei Ika (Phantom Squid). The Japanese name comes from its ghost-like fluttering and floating movement.
It’s a squid seldom seen by people who don’t have access to a submarine and can visit their habitat 200 to 600 meters beneath the ocean. So when they started turning up in unprecedented numbers around the southeastern coast of Japan, experts became understandably alarmed.
The phantom squid is not especially large at 60cm (body: 20cm), but even for a country very familiar with squid these guys are odd looking. They have 8 extremely thick tentacles, two of which are retractable, accompanied with two whip-like appendages.
Most people aren’t even aware of their existence, but the crew of a fishing vessel that scooped one up in their nets did on 15 November. Upon catching a living specimen they immediately sent it to the nearest aquarium, Enoshima Aquarium on the coast of Sagami Bay.
The aquarium welcomed this rarest of rare squid with open arms and prepared suitable living quarters. They equipped its tank with a dark red light to simulate its deep sea home and let them observe.
Sadly, the following day it died, likely as a result of the change in pressure. Marine ecologist, Masachika Tsuji explains:
“As far as I know, this is the first time to capture a live phantom squid. Usually, if deep sea fish come to the surface of the ocean then the lower pressure bursts their air bladder. However, because squid don’t have air bladders they can survive. That being said, coming to the surface causes considerable damage to their bodies. I have no idea why it came all this way.”
As the aquarium was lamenting their fleeting moment with such a rare creature the unexpected happened. The same day the museum was contacted about another fishing crew who caught another living phantom squid in Sagami Bay.
This time the museum was able to keep the squid alive for 3 days, but research on these creatures was extremely slim. Aquarium head keeper Madoka Kitajima tells the story:
“We tried feeding it different gobies and goldfish. We gave it a variety of thawed krill and herring, but it just wouldn’t eat. Phantom squid No. 2 came from off the coast of Atami and lived for 3 days, but it wouldn’t eat anything and died.”
As of 20 November there were two other phantom squids caught but they were not alive. It was also later discovered that back in October 10 phantom squid were discovered on the other side of Sagami Bay at Odawara Port.
So in the span of two months, 14 squid that are virtually never seen at the surface of the ocean were all caught within a limited area – an area which happens to be the location of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Mr. Tsuji is concerned.
“If it was just the one case on the 15th then it would have been written off as a fluke. But no longer, this must have been some kind of emergency evacuation from something major in the deep sea.
There seem to be many causes for the abnormal behavior of marine organisms. However, since the Tohoku Earthquake March 11 last year, there has been a growing risk of a massive earthquake epicenter in west Kanto. Most likely there could be crustal deformation of the seafloor in Sagami Bay.
In particular, it is also worrisome that the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake which occurred off the coast of northwest Sagami Bay. One should also consider the Teishi Knoll undersea volcano that erupted in 1989 off the coast of Ito City in Shizuoka Prefecture. This may be a precursor to major volcanic activity in this area. The Phantom Squid may have begun to sense it.”
To make things more unsettling, last year we reported that an oarfish washed up on shore in Shizuoka Prefecture not too far from Sagami Bay on 21 December. In the article a reference was made to oarfish which washed up about year before the Tohoku Earthquake.
On the bright side, the fact that there is some major event under the ocean doesn’t necessarily mean it will have an impact to those of us on land.
I’ll leave you all with a fun science fact: the phantom squid are one of the few squid which has a penis. Most species of squid use their tentacles to impregnate females.