Squid and other cephalopods catch prey with remarkable speed and precision. Before the strike occurs, they encounter the difficult task of judging an object’s distance and size in the contrast-poor world of the mid-water environment. Here we describe a solution to this common problem underwater, where a large portion of a squid’s dorso-temporal retina is intentionally blurred. This apparently counter-adaptive ‘retinal bump’ is combined with a vertical bobbing behavior that scans objects of interest from focused to defocused retinal regions. The image focus differential changes sharply at precisely the distance equivalent to tentacle length and enables the squid, Sepioteuthis lessoniana, to capture prey. This unique range-finding mechanism is an adaptation to hunting, defense, and object size identification in an environment where the depth cues found on land are less reliable.