Here it is, the monster of the depths, the sea-creature of nightmares, filmed for the first time in its natural habitat: the giant squid.
This is the beast which has long wound its fearsome, 30ft (9m) tentacles around our imagination: it was thought to be the origin of the mythical Kraken which dragged down ships to their doom, it was the brute which attacked the submarine Nautilus in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the fiend which James Bond fought in Dr No.
Now a team of Japanese scientists have captured what they claim are the first live images of the real animal in its natural surroundings, 2,000ft beneath the waves in the Pacific near the Ogasawara Islands, 600 miles south of Tokyo.
It's a small one. Only 10ft long. But the sight of its silvery form looming out of the blackness of the deep ocean, even in these stills, is enough to bring us up short.
"Many people have tried to capture an image of a giant squid alive in its natural habitat, whether researchers or film crews. But they all failed," said Tsunemi Kubodera, a zoologist at Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science, who led the team.
"I've seen a lot of giant squid specimens in my time, but mainly those hauled out of the ocean. This was the first time for me to see with my own eyes a giant squid swimming. It was stunning, I couldn't have dreamt that it would be so beautiful. It was such a wonderful creature."
The film, taken last July for the Japanese national broadcaster NHK and the Discovery Channel, will be shown later this month.
ANATOMY OF A GIANT SQUID
1 The torso of the giant squid is known as the mantle.
2 Its beak is used for tearing its prey and consuming it.
3 It has the largest eyes in the animal kingdom. They can be nearly a foot in diameter with a 3.5in pupil.
4 It has eight arms, and two longer tentacles, the longest in the squid family. They are all lined on the inside with toothed suction cups, which let the squid seize its prey.
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