The giant-squid hunters from MIT Sea Grant's Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) Laboratory came back to campus empty-handed with respect to squids, but fully satisfied with the performance of their underwater vehicle in the depths of New Zealand's Kaikoura Canyon.
When MIT last saw the team (James G. Bellingham, principal research engineer; Robert Grieve, research specialist; and Bradley A. Moran, research engineer) in early February, they were off to New Zealand with the AUV Odyssey IIB to join the Smithsonian Institution's squid-hunter, Clyde Roper, on a quest to find a giant squid (Architeuthis) alive and in its natural habitat.
Odyssey performed flawlessly. "The vehicle did what it was supposed to do. We ran it nearly to the bottom and through various regions of the canyon; we had much slower runs than we thought possible; we learned a lot about how to run biological experiments; and we learned a lot about how to search for squid," Dr. Bellingham said. "But there were no giant eyeballs appearing in the camera."
Most runs focused on the mid-water column about 550 meters deep. It was in this region of ocean that other mission participants spotted an arrow squid and that Odyssey swam though blizzard-like formations of jellyfish -- all good indications of prey to be found by any hungry Architeuthis.
The Odyssey runs also yielded clues for future squid-seeking forays. "Hopefully the data we brought back will help in the coming year," Dr. Bellingham said. He noted that the squid hunters are now reworking their strategy to include a manned submersible.
Considering the vast amount of water to be searched, Dr. Bellingham suggested speeding up the search rate with acoustic techniques. He predicts that such an approach would allow for search rates that are faster by a factor of 100.
Odyssey's next extended mission will be in early 1998 in the Labrador Sea, where the vehicle will explore ocean circulation.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 19, 1997.