Submersible LULA1000 with diver

© Stiftung Rebikoff-Niggeler

Tracking down deep-sea creatures with a submersible

We still don’t know much about giant squid. Two researchers from the Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation embarked on the search for these mysterious creatures in a submersible with a viewing dome made of PLEXIGLAS®.

For centuries, people have recounted legends about giant squid. Whalers told stories of tentacles that could strangle sperm whales and traces that were left on a whale’s skin after struggles. In Norwegian mythology, giant squid are huge monsters that can sink entire ships. Until now, little has been known about the legendary giant squid Architeuthis, but the research team on board the LULA1000 now wants to track down the creature.

In search of a mythical creature

Only a tiny fraction of the deep sea and its inhabitants has been explored. We don’t know how long giant squid can live, how they breed or how they defend themselves against their greatest enemy, sperm whales. International research teams are now trying to shed some light on this mystical creature. They are intent on studying this huge mollusk in its natural environment.

Nearly 20 meters long

In July 2012, a Japanese team succeeded in luring one of these animals in with bait and capturing several minutes of film. Since the two tentacles the squid usually uses to catch its prey were missing, the animal was only three meters long. The size of these animals has always been difficult to determine since only dead animals can be properly measured. Squid belong to the mollusk family, which is why it is not possible to make any conclusions about their real-life size. However, it is estimated that they can reach a length of up to 16 meters.

An invisible viewing dome made of PLEXIGLAS®

Researchers use the submersible LULA1000 to track down giant squid. “lula” is Portuguese for squid. The submersible, which belongs to the Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation, was specially developed for taking film footage and conducting research in the deep sea. It can submerge to depths of 1,000 meters. Giant squid live in these dark depths of the ocean, which is why their eyes are extremely sensitive to light and as big as volley balls.

For us, PLEXIGLAS® was the best product on the market.

Joachim Jakobsen
Submersible developer

The PLEXIGLAS® viewing dome manufactured and shaped by Evonik paved the way for this mission to find giant squid. The Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation and Evonik came into contact during the production of the PLEXIGLAS® viewing dome – the “heart of the submersible” as Joachim Jakobsen describes it. The curved sheets produced by Evonik were tailored to the requirements of the project down to the very last detail. “Since the mission was to film a living Architeuthis in its natural environment, both the high level of safety and the outstanding optical properties of PLEXIGLAS® were crucial factors in the material selection. The viewing dome is practically invisible under water,” explains the researcher in describing the video shooting under water.

The production of the viewing dome was a challenging feat for Evonik as well. Produced by the Acrylic Products division, the PLEXIGLAS® had to be processed in such a way that it would retain its optical properties.  This was achieved thanks to a combination of heat and pressure. Representatives of the classification society Germanische Lloyd SE were involved in the development phase at an early stage and subsequently certified the process. Thanks to their special manufacturing methods, the 14 cm-thick viewing dome is almost invisible under water, meaning that high-resolution, distortion-free videos can be taken even at great depths. The PLEXIGLAS® viewing dome is still extremely resilient and stable, given that it must be capable of withstanding the high pressure under water.

Blick aus der Sichtkuppel des U-Boots LULA1000

The PLEXIGLAS® viewing dome in the LULA1000

For the LULA1000, a 1,000 kilogram block of PLEXIGLAS® was shaped. With a diameter of 1.40 meters, the viewing dome’s curved shape allows for a 150° view. The dome is only 14 cm thick at its thinnest point. At depths of 1,000 meters, the pressure reaches 1,000 tons per square meter. Glass would not be capable of withstanding these extreme conditions. The PLEXIGLAS® sheets were processed by the experts at Heinz Fritz Kunststoffverarbeitung.

© Stiftung Rebikoff-Niggeler

First trace during the first dive

On the very first dive, the LULA1000 passed by a yellowish ink cloud with a height of several meters. The experts unanimously concluded that this cloud could only have come from an Architeuthis. But since then, the fast and clever creature has not reared its head again. A flop? Quite the opposite, as the LULA1000 has already captured several hours of high-resolution videos from the depths of the ocean, documented a whole range of previously unknown species, discovered a living cold-water coral reef and found a missing German submarine from the Second World War at a depth of 900 meters, which has become home to a deep-sea ecosystem over the years. This is extraordinary footage for researchers and wildlife filmmakers, and has also been viewed by several hundred million people on TV screens around the world – in amazing quality thanks to the viewing dome made of PLEXIGLAS®.

Deep below the surface of the sea, the Jakobsens embark on a search for giant squid. / © Stiftung Rebikoff-Niggeler

Read more on submersibles with viewing domes made from PLEXIGLAS®: 

Passion for the deep sea Interview with Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen
LULA1000 discovers a missing German submarine
Triton Submarines: Luxury in the deep sea
Diving down to the Great Barrier Reef 
Anglerfish: Sensational video from the deep sea