Fins, tentacles and squid: a great squid sub hunt

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If we knew where the devious engine was, we’d be half the way to Colombia. And since we only know a few dozen hints, we have to be at the bottom of the sea. But we’ve still got the time to do the thing.

It’s Wednesday morning and our 125ft vessel, La Gallina, is careering round the giant whale of a contraption we’ve nicknamed the squid sub – and which is camouflaged on the surface of the sea with reflective foil, not to mention a lead instrument pen.

All the way around the world, there are other ships and aircraft spying the craft.

It is genuinely under water, but made of polystyrene and wire. Little people with floating blue hats zip around it like kites.

We’ve donned swimsuits, fins and masks – as well as a dramatic pair of diving goggles – to get an aerial view. Most of the underwater robots can’t do this kind of work, so we’re the cool kids.

Our mission is to see whether the squid sub can fit through two wires of squid scales welded together at 10cm intervals. They would be like triangular ovals of upturned construction plate, a huge block of material hanging like a curtain around its one mouth.

And, why squid? For a start, the creatures must be connected to the mothership by a lasso-like wire, and squid relatives have been known to walk on air, too.

We also have reasons to suspect that there could be bigger creatures on board. Just last year, footage from a manned submersible ship surfaced showing a creature six metres long that bobbed up to the surface with its jaws clamped shut. Could it be a squid?

OK, so we’ll show up. The squid is ours, a sensor design now housed aboard a research boat on the shores of the world’s second most-active submarine volcano, Venera Aruua, now glowing orange. It was built by the Salar Dancer.

But here’s the question, is it a squid, or not? Answer: yes. Yes it is.

Some of the facts you need to know: – The squid sub was built as a prototype by Underwater Systems Company (USS), a US firm, in 1997. By 2003 it had developed an internal reservoir of 400 litres of water, to help pump gases and other substances into the squid’s nose cavity. – The squid sub weighs about 10 tonnes. It is designed so that the squid can swim through the water, so it can be submerged or resurfaced like a shark. – It has a fin of iron on its middle known as the spiky mane, and a slim rectangle called the rib sack or ribproxis on the top. It is served by a series of rectangular bubble tubes, sometimes as the main means of propulsion, and other times as the wings. – The tentacles measure from 1.5m to 2.4m long. The tentacles contain 5,000 to 7,000 hairs and up to 40,000 other biological elements, such as nuclei and prisms. As many as 20 tubes come off the squid at one time when it dies. A detailed diagram of the squid sub can be found here.

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