'Googly-Eyed' Stubby Squid Captures Internet's Attention

Aug 20, 2016
Originally published on August 21, 2016 8:03 am

It looks like it could be a cartoon character, but it's real. And this little squid is making waves on the internet.

Researchers from the Nautilus exploration vessel were cruising along the deep sea floor off California's coast when they came upon the bright purple creature with giant, stuffed-animal-like eyes.

"Whoa!" they exclaim in unison.

"It looks fake," one says. And those googly eyes? "It looks like they just painted them on," another says, to peals of laughter.

In fact, the researchers can't contain their giggles as the look at the adorable creature. "It's like some little kid dropped their toy," one comments. The stubby squid stays stoic, gazing straight ahead with its huge eyes throughout the entire 2.5 minute video. You can watch the squid's big moment here:

Weekend Edition Saturday caught up with Samantha Wishnak, a science fellow on board the Nautilus. She says the little cephalopod has garnered a big reaction. "I think it definitely captured the imagination of both our researchers on board and our hundreds of viewers who were watching when we discovered this guy."

And that adorable wide-eyed expression? "We probably encountered the squid at a time it wasn't expecting to see a 5,500 pound underwater robot moving towards it," says Wishnak. "Scuba divers actually encounter these squid at scuba diving depths, and they say that when their dive lights turn on them, they get the similar kind of deer-in-the-headlights look."

She says this kind of stubby squid are tougher than they look – they're "ambush predators you don't want to encounter if you're a shrimp." Wishnak thinks the squid was out hunting when the crew found it. Here's more:

"They're actually nocturnal hunters so they spend a lot of the day actually burrowed in the sea floor with just their eyes poking out. And then when they feel comfortable, when it's time to hunt, they'll actually start creeping along looking for their next meal."

They're also not always quite so purple, she says, because of a neat trick that involves activating a "little sticky mucus jacket." That means "pebbles, sand, whatever they're sort of burrowing in will stick to that jacket and give them a nice extra layer of camouflage," Wishnak says. Then, they lie in wait, "and whenever a small fish or a shrimp crawls by it'll actually sort of turn off that mucus jacket and slide out of the sediment to lunge for their next meal."

Pretty fierce for a creature that resembles an adorable emoticon.

Craving more deep-sea fun? Take a gander at this "remarkable little octopod," found earlier this year near Hawaii.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The cutest little thing was found on the ocean floor this week - a little googly-eyed purple squid off the coast of California. It looks like a close friend of Nemo. I'm joined now by Samantha Wishnak, who's a science fellow on board the Nautilus ship that captured the endearing cephalopod on video. Thanks so much for being with us.

SAMANTHA WISHNAK: Thanks for having us.

SIMON: He's just adorable. Is it a he, a she? What is it?

WISHNAK: We're not quite sure on the he or she of this squid. But we do know it is a stubby squid, or a North Pacific Bobtail Squid, scientific name Rossia pacifica. This animal looks like a cross between an octopus and squid but tends to be more related to the cuttlefish. As you can tell, it spends a lot of life on the sea floor. We encountered it sort of perched on the sediment with that now-famous googly-eyed expression.

SIMON: All purple and just has the most adorable little endearing eyes.

WISHNAK: Yes. We probably encountered this squid at a time it wasn't expecting to see a 5,500-pound underwater robot moving towards it.

SIMON: So he was just surprised?

WISHNAK: Right. Scuba divers actually encounter these squid at scuba diving depths, and they say that when, you know, their dive lights turn on them they get this similar kind of deer-in-the-headlights look.

SIMON: Yeah.

WISHNAK: They're actually nocturnal hunters, so they spend a lot of their day actually burrowed in the sea floor with just their eyes poking out. And then when they feel comfortable, when it's time to hunt, they'll come out and actually start creeping along, looking for their next meal. So I think we encountered a squid on the hunt that wasn't expecting to see us. But yes, this one is bright purple, which was pretty exciting for us to see. Definitely stood out against the mud of the canyon we were in.

SIMON: And he or she eats what?

WISHNAK: So these are squid that kind of hang out around the sea floor. They spend their day burrowed in the settlement with just their eyes poking out, so that's kind of their best form of camouflage. But they also have the ability to activate a little sticky mucus jacket. And once they've activated that little jacket, sediment - so pebbles, sand, whatever they're sort of burrowing in - will stick to that jacket and give it a nice extra layer of camouflage. So they lie in wait - they're ambush predators - and as soon as a small fish or a shrimp crawls by it, it'll actually sort of turn off that mucus jacket and slide out of the sediment to lunge for their next meal.

SIMON: Cute, but don't underestimate them.

WISHNAK: Exactly. Very cute, but definitely ambush predators you don't want to encounter if you're a shrimp.

SIMON: You're now docked in San Francisco, and I think that's pretty close to Pixar. I mean, any agents from that studio on board?

WISHNAK: (Laughter) Not that I know of. Maybe we have some sleeper agents. But one of the most interesting things about all the media requests we've received is that the media requests typically start out with, are you sure this is real? Is this a real animal? How do we know it's real? So I think it definitely captured the imagination of both our researchers on board and our hundreds of viewers who were watching as we discovered this guy.

SIMON: Samantha Wishnak, who's a science fellow aboard the Nautilus that discovered the squid. By the way, you can see cute squid pics on our website, npr.org. Thanks very much for being with us.

WISHNAK: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.