Science TED Conferences

There are giants in the ocean: Edie Widder at TED2013

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Photo: James Duncan Davidson

There are giants in the ocean, and we can prove it, begins marine biologist Edie Widder on stage at TED. Widder first became involved with TED when she gave a talk on life in the underwater world at Mission Blue in 2010, as part of Sylvia Earle’s TED Prize wish. There she met the late legendary filmmaker Mike DeGruy, who told Widder about his hunt for the giant squid. This piqued Widder’s interest, and thus began her newest journey.

Widder suspected that the reason it was so hard to find the giant squid was the vehicles that were typically being used to hunt them. Common remotely operated underwater vehicles, or ROVs, were simply too loud, and likely scaring a lot of animals away. Widder and her team developed Medusa, a camera platform attached to an optical lure that could be dragged along silently without a thruster or motor. The lure is unobtrusive and uses red light, which is invisible to undersea creatures, much like infrared above water. The light that is visible is a tiny blue light, like an electronic jellyfish.

In the wild, jellyfish use bioluminescence when they are under attack, in order to lure even larger attackers to attack their attackers, as a last-ditch attempt before they are eaten. Widder’s “e-jelly” imitates this phenomenon in hopes of luring a giant squid and capturing it on camera. Well, it worked! Widder and her team managed six sightings of the giant squid, which when laid out can be as tall as a two-story house. Just last month the world saw footage of the giant squid for the first time in the Discovery Channel documentary Monster Squid: The Giant Is Real.

Only 5 percent of the ocean has been explored. What else is out there? As Widder urges us, we should turn our attention toward exploring all the truly remarkable — insanely large and weird! — corners and creatures beneath the sea.

Edie Widder’s talk is now available for viewing. Watch it on »