TOKYO - The oceanic squid can fly more than 30 metres (100 feet) through the air at speeds faster than Usain Bolt if it wants to escape predators, Japanese researchers said Friday.
The mollusc propels itself out of the ocean by shooting a jet of water at high pressure, before opening its fins to glide at up to 11.2 metres per second, Jun Yamamoto of Hokkaido University said.
Olympic Gold medallist Bolt averaged 10.31 metres a second when he bagged gold in London last year.
"There were always witnesses and rumors that said squid were seen flying, and we have proved that it really is true," Yamamoto told AFP.
Yamamoto and his team were tracking a shoal of around 100 oceanic squid in the northwest Pacific 600 kilometres (370 miles) east of Tokyo, in July 2011.
As their boat approached, the 20 centimetre (8-inch) creatures launched themselves into the air with a powerful jet of water that shot out from their funnel-like stems.
"Once they finish shooting out the water, they glide by spreading out their fins and arms," Yamamoto's team said in a report.
"As they land back in the water, the fins are all folded back into place to minimise the impact."
A picture researchers snapped shows more than 20 of the creatures in full flight above the water, droplets of water from their propulsion jet clearly visible.
The squid are in the air for about three seconds and travel upwards of 30 metres, said Yamamoto, in what he believed was a defence mechanism to escape being eaten.
But, he added, being out of the ocean opened a new front, leaving the cephalopods vulnerable to other predators.
"This finding means that we should no longer consider squid as things that live only in the water. It is highly possible that they are also a source of food for sea birds."
The study was published by German science magazine Marine Biology this week.