TNB Night Owl – Purpleback Flying Squid

A purpleback flying squid, Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis, caught on camera by an ROV in the Gulf of Aqaba, northern Red Sea.

On November 3, 2011, the passenger ferry Pella, en route to the Egyptian port of Nuweib, caught fire in the Gulf of Aqaba, ten miles from the Jordanian coast. Approximately 1,240 passengers, in addition to the crew, were rescued, although one person died and as many as two dozen required hospitalization for smoke inhalation. Multiple attempts were made to tow the vessel back to the port city of Aqaba, Jordan, without success. Four days after the conflagration, the hull, weakend by the fire, lost integrity and sank to a depth of 850 meters (2,800 feet).

One year ago, in October 2020, the research vessel OceanXplorer was conducting an ecosystem survey in the northern Red Sea. They were there to map the never-before explored seabed, to survey the flora and fauna under the waves, and (apparently) to locate shipwrecks. During an overnight shift, a “bump” on the bottom was noted by the survey technician. The “bump” measured 100 meters (330 feet) long, rising 20-30 meters (65-100 feet) up off the seafloor. It had to be a shipwreck or a huge rock coincidentally shaped like a ship. An ROV (remotely operated vehicle) was launched to investigate, discovering the location of the Pella. As the ROV neared the wreck, it caught on camera a remarkable creature bigger than a human. The cephalopod made an appearance each time the ROV returned to the wreck, causing the scientists to wonder if it actually lived within the hulk.

Initially, the stunned research team supposed they’d just seen a giant squid (Architeuthis dux) which can grow to thirty or even over forty meters long, but weren’t sure. It turns out the shipwreck photobomber was not a giant squid, but the “giant form” of Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis (common name: purpleback flying squid). The identity of the creature was confirmed earlier this month by zoologist Dr. Michael Vecchione of the NMFS National Systematics Laboratory and the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian.

Although the purpleback flying squid is very common in the Red Sea, identifying one isn’t easy because it comes in three major forms and two minor forms, all different in outward appearence: giant form, two medium forms, dwarf form, and a small form. None of the variations have ever before been observed inhabiting a shipwreck, so the one filmed hanging around the Pella may be a new finding or it just may be a coincidence.

Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Cephalopoda
Order: Oegopsida
Family: Ommastrephidae
Genus: Sthenoteuthis
Species: S. oualaniensis
Binomial name: Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis (Lesson, 1830)

OceanXplorer is operated by OceanX in order to conduct deep water research and survey the oceans all over the globe. The organization’s mission statement: “To explore the ocean and bring it back to the world”.

Giant Deep-Sea Creature Photobombs Us While Investigating Seafloor Anomaly (8:33)

About the opinions in this article…

Any opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or of the other authors/contributors who write for it.

About Richard Doud 332 Articles
Learning is a life-long endeavor. Never stop learning. No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.