Mesmerizing gelatinous ‘orb’ houses thousands of baby squids

In a breath-taking new video scuba divers accidently stumble upon a massive squid egg sac. The floating gelatinous orb is a rare sight in the ocean and very little is known about them. So just how is this mesmerizing structure formed and why?

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Scuba diver Ronald Raasch swimming alongside the squid egg sac (filmed by Nils Baadnes)

Time and again wonders of the ocean are discovered and filmed that leave us spellbound and speechless. A mesmerizing new video showing divers swimming around a giant egg sac is no exception. The structure the size of a small car is believed to hold tens of thousands of tiny squid embryos. Little is known about the gelatinous orb including what species was responsible for creating it. But researchers believe that without it juvenile squids would never be able to last long enough to survive. It is a stunning reminder that the most bizarre and beautiful life in the universe can be found right here, deep in the oceans of our own planet.

Close encounter

The video was filmed by two scuba divers who accidentally stumbled across the egg sac whilst trying to find a WWII shipwreck. Ronald Raasch and Nils Baadnes, both working aboard the REV Ocean vessel, made the freak discovery in the waters of Ørstafjorden, in Norway, on 5th October. It was motionlessly floating 17 metres below the surface and 15 metres above the seabed, almost perfectly in the middle of the water column. The footage shows the divers swimming around the mysterious orb and shining a light through its gelatinous membrane, showing off the thousands of baby squid within. Check it out for yourself in the video below.

Protective orb

The video is a stunning reminder of the complexity and beauty of nature but leaves you with lots of questions. Such as, how does a squid even produce such a massive structure? And why do they need to keep their babies in it at all? Marine biologist, author and self-titled ‘cephalopodiatrist’ Danna Staaf has studied squids for years and encountered several of these elusive egg sacs. Talking to National Geographic in 2015 she explained that “we know that mama squid has these special glands in her body that make jelly and she mixes that jelly with her eggs in some way” and that it has the “ability to absorb water and expand in water”. She believes that the female squids lay their eggs in a concentrated ball of jelly which slowly expands as it takes in seawater from its surroundings. A little bit like a toy ‘sea monkey’ you can grow in a glass of water at home. That may be really cool and interesting, but why do they need to do it?

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shining a light through the protective barrier of the sac (filmed by Nils Baadnes)

Well as the egg sac expands it pushes apart the thousands of baby squids. This not only provides each individual with its own jelly rich in nutrients, but also gives it the space to breathe. What’s more it is believed to act as a protective shield from predators. This is something it is actually poorly designed to do as the membrane is very thin and easy to break. However the size of the structure is enough to put off any animal that doesn’t know what it is. You may wonder why squids can’t just protect their offspring themselves. But the reason is that squid like all cephalopods are semelparous, meaning that after they mate they die after using up all of their energy to reproduce. In 2012 a team of researchers, including Danna and others from the Spanish National Research Council, conducted an in-vitro study in squids that showed that lab born squids with no protective egg sac were much more likely to contract a fatal infection. So the orb allows squids to produce thousands of offspring to maximise reproductive success and protect them after they have gone.

Filling in the gaps

While this is all really interesting stuff we actually still no very little about the egg sacs and how squid reproduce in general. For example nobody is even sure which species of squid was responsible for producing the egg sac in the video. Although likely Norwegian species include Boreoatlantic armhook squid (Gonatus fabricii) and the European flying squid (Todarodes sagittatus). Researchers also don’t know what chemicals are responsible for the transformative properties of the orb. Similar ones we know about are all artificial and just imagine what we could do with such a versatile and organic material. But as we continue to explore the ocean and find more weird and wonderful things we can start to fill in these knowledge gaps. That is why it is so important to continue to explore the deep ocean which we still no so little about. After all who says you need to leave earth to find ‘alien’ lifeforms.

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