Widder developed a submersible vessel and video camera that use red lights, which many sea creatures—including giant squid—can't see. They then used optical lures that mimic deep-sea creatures' bioluminescent lights to rein in the squid. On one of the dives, the vessel was able to turn on a white light and the squid didn't flee, allowing scientists to observe the creature for more than 18 minutes.
"The reason we succeeded where others have failed is because we paid attention to the visual system of the squid. It has the largest eye of any animal on Earth, it's a visual predator," she says. "Before, I went down in submersibles and shined a light only to wonder how many animals were outside the range of my light—that could see me, but I couldn't see them."
Vecchione says discoveries like this are imperative to learning more about marine life's behavior and should serve as a reminder that only a limited amount of information can be gleaned from dead specimens.
"We've got to be careful about the guesses we make on things like preserved specimens. We do the best to infer what's going on based on the info we have, but a lot of the times we're wrong," he says. "The idea that is just passively floats along and waits for something to bump into it proved to be wrong. Getting a new source of information like this is incredibly valuable."
Just don't expect to be eating giant squid calamari: Widder says its body contains too much ammonia to be edible.
Full footage of the giant squid will air on Discovery Channel's Monster Squid: The Giant is Real, which premieres Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. Eastern.