Epic Undersea Battle Caught on Video

squid and fish battle
A squid and owlfish battle in Monterey Bay, as seen by MBARI's remotely-operated vehicle on Nov. 11, 2013. (Image credit: MBARI)

Thanks to its sharp beak, a small red squid emerged victorious after an epic hour-long battle with a much bigger owlfish, all caught on video last November in Monterey Bay, Calif.

The black-eyed squid paralyzed the owlfish by cutting through the fish's backbone, according to Bruce Robison, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Robison narrates a video of the fight between invertebrate and vertebrate, captured by MBARI's remotely operate vehicle Doc Ricketts on Nov. 11, 2013.

The Doc Ricketts discovered the struggling marine creatures at about 1,475 feet (450 meters) below Monterey Bay as the vehicle was rising toward the surface, said Susan von Thun, an MBARI senior research technician. Scientists watched the scene play out for 50 minutes before the ROV had to continue its journey, Von Thun told LiveScience. [See video of the squid-fish tussle.]

"They were sinking rapidly the whole time, and we think that's part of [the squid's tactic," Von Thun said. "We see a lot of feeding events and often times the squid gets startled and lets go, but this guy held on for the whole time that we watched it."

By the time the ROV left, the squid and owlfish had dropped to a depth of 1,970 feet (600 m), Von Thun said.

An owlfish can flee a squid's grabby tentacles by shedding scales, slipping the grip, or by flicking their tails to dart out of reach, Robison said in the video. But the squid in this video is hugging the owlfish too tight for escape. Slowly, the squid twisted the fish inside its tentacles, biting over and over until it finally subdued its prey. The squid also held its tentacles over the owlfish's gill slits, perhaps in an attempt to suffocate the fish.

Dubbed owlfish by MBARI, the fish seen in the video is also known as a smelt, species Bathylagus, and is about 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 centimeters) long. The squid, a Gonatus onyx, is about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) long.

Editor's note: This story was updated Jan. 15 to correct the spelling of Bruce Robison's name.

Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Becky Oskin
Contributing Writer
Becky Oskin covers Earth science, climate change and space, as well as general science topics. Becky was a science reporter at Live Science and The Pasadena Star-News; she has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics. She earned a master's degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor's degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.