Once legend, now reality. Once monster, now animal. Once Kraken, now the giant squid.
This is the story of one of the world's most elusive, mysterious and fantastic creatures. It is a creature we know so very little about, despite the fact that it was first scientifically described nearly 130 years ago. Clyde Roper, one of the world's foremost researchers on the subject, points out that we know more about the dinosaurs then we do about the giant squid. Is this true? If so, why?
A Clandestine Creature
Roper's statement is indeed true, and reminds us repeatedly that the world's oceans quite possibly shelter even more amazing animals yet to be discovered. Though BBC's Weird Nature boldly stated that "The Giant Squid is the last great mystery of the oceans," obvious truth states otherwise. Consider the Indo-Pacific beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus), an air-breathing mammal that has never been seen in the flesh and is known only from two skulls found on the beach, one in Somalia and the other in Queensland. In fact, we have more specimens of giant squid than we do of Baird's beaked whale (Berardius bairdii), the northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus), and the goose-beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris). Again, all air-breathing mammals that must come to the surface. We are then left to do nothing less but ponder, "What lurks beneath the churning waters that cover so much of our globe? Have we the slightest notion what might be hidden by that endless sprawl of hydrosphere? Who knows what fantastic creatures science has yet to behold?"
What we do know about the giant squid in relation to habitation is this: They primarily dwell in the great deeps of the ocean, rarely coming to the surface. Though BBC's Weird Nature again boldly claims, "In fact, they only ever come to the surface when dead or dying," truth, again, states otherwise.
An Attacker Of Ships
Sailors who braved the unforgiving seas in the great age of sailing ships continually brought back reports of giant sea monsters large enough to bring down an entire craft.
Of course, such reports were scoffed at, and as a result the stories of the frightened sailors became disregarded as myths of homesick and disillusioned men. Even today we balk at the idea of a gigantic sea creature attacking a sailing vessel. Why has this not happened in our day? Why have reports of these 'monsters' dwindled off?
There are logical reasons that should be considered in any reasonable discussion. Back when the only form of propulsion was the wind, a vessel did not produce much noise, and could thus 'sneak' up to any large animal swimming near the surface. Nowadays, ships are constructed from metal, and have large engines that produce great volumes of noise. As sound travels well under water, it is conceivable that any creature could hear a ship coming from miles off and be safely out of sight long before any probing eyes caught sight of it. Also, animals are relatively smart. They would probably steer clear of the regular shipping lanes in use today.
Or so we think . . .
GIANT SQUID ATTACKS FRENCH BOAT
Authority Explorer (2-03)
by Jordan Niednagel
"I saw a tentacle through a porthole. It was thicker than my leg and it was really pulling the boat hard."
So were the words of veteran yachtsman Olivier de Kersauson, an eyewitness of a unique attack that seems straight from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. French sailors taking part in the round-the-world Jules Verne Trophy say they came across one of the most elusive monsters of the sea: the giant squid.
Scientifically known as Architeutis dux, the animal is the largest of all invertebrates, reaching lengths of 60 feet (18 meters). The largest squid to be measured was studied on November 2, 1878. The men who discovered the stranded squid found that measured from the tip of the head to the bottom of the beak it came to nearly 20 feet in length. The longest of the arms was 35 feet long, making for a creature 55 feet in length.
According to Olivier de Kersauson, the sighting occurred off the Portuguese island of Madeira. Several hours into his voyage he found that a giant squid had clamped on to the hull of his boat, with two of its tentacles blocking the rudder.
Unlike Jules Verne's fictional Captain Nemo, Kersauson did not have to fight with the monster and cut off its tentacles. According to his report, the squid released its grip when he stopped the boat.
"We didn't have anything to scare off this beast, so I don't know what we would have done if it hadn't let go. We weren't going to attack it with our penknives," he said.
Kersauson says the squid must have been 22 to 26 feet (7 to 8 meters) long.
One exciting report reveals that giant squids can reach monstrous proportions. A certain A.G. Starkey, on board a British Admiralty trawler in WWII, observed one of these amazing animals. He was alone on deck fishing when he noticed a strange object in the water next to the boat.
In any case, think twice before you scoff at the famous Kraken of lore.
So, it is possible that the hideous beasts that surface in sailors' stories are based on real creatures that may even be alive today. In the next few thoughts and paragraphs, we'll review the elusive 'Giant Squid', and seek to come to an explanation of this strange creature. How does it fit in history? In present times?
There have been a number of these creatures studied by science in the past few decades. Most of them are carcasses washed up on a beach. They have ranged in size from small babies to relatively large adults (what they think to be adults).
These carnivorous mollusks are torpedo in shape, endowed with a beak-like mouth strong enough to snap steel cable, and they are equipped with five pairs of lengthy arms. One pair is thinner than the other pairs and exceeds them in length. Also, they are armed with powerful calamari rings.
As to the maximum size of these creatures, it is a debatable issue. The largest squid to be measured was studied on November 2, 1878. The men who discovered the stranded squid found that measured from the tip of the head to the bottom of the beak it came to nearly 20 feet in length. The longest of the arms was 35 feet long! That makes for a creature 55 feet long. Also, the suckers were 4 inches in diameter.
Yet another report reveals that the squids can reach even more monstrous proportions. A certain A.G. Starkey, on board a British Admiralty trawler in WWII, observed one of these amazing animals. He was alone on deck fishing when he noticed this strange object in the water next to the boat.
"As I gazed, fascinated, a circle of green light glowed in my area of illumination. This green unwinking orb I suddenly realized was an eye. The surface of the water undulated with some strange disturbance. Gradually I realized that I was gazing at almost point-blank range at a huge squid."
Walking the length of the boat, Starkey realized the creature stretched the whole length of the ship. The vessel was over 175 feet long! That makes for a large squid, and a squid of those proportions would easily fit into the mysterious legend of the Kraken.
Men were terrified of this monster they called the Kraken. Each description gave the beast many arms. It was known to attack sailing vessels, tipping them over, stretching its arms even to the top of the mast. A creature the size of "Starkey's squid" would have no trouble reaching the top of the mast of an average sailing vessel, as the vessels in those days were not the size of today's ships.
Some dismiss the notion of a squid attacking a boat, but that very occurrence has been documented in the 1930's. In fact, it was the Brunswick, an auxiliary tanker in the Royal Norwegian Navy, that was attacked. The giant squid paced the ship, then turned and aggressively attacked the ship. Three times this happened, until the squid, who could not get a good grip on the metal hull, slipped and fell into the propellers. No damage was done to the Brunswick, as its immense size dwarfed the squid. It was quite an amazing occurrence, and it went to show that these creatures are certainly capable of attacking sailing vessels.
Sperm whales, thought to be the mortal enemy of the Giant Squid, have been found with sucker scars on their skin, indicating a battle with squids reaching to lengths of up to 100 feet. Other whales have been found with tentacles in their stomach that are terrifyingly long, once again indicating an extremely large squid. An interesting fact involves a Soviet Whaler. In 1965, the men on board observed a battle between a Sperm Whale and a Giant Squid. The battle proved disastrous for both participants as they were found a day later in a tangled mess of tentacles and whale. The long arms of the squid had strangled the whale, but the squid's head was found inside the whale's stomach.
Only a year later, a lighthouse keeper in South Africa watched for several hours as a Giant Squid attacked a baby South Right whale. Slowly the squid drowned the helpless yet determined whale as its mother watched in hopeless fear.
While large squid are facts accepted by science, there is yet to be any study on a live one in its natural habitat by purposed scientists. While they do not exactly fit in the category of Cryptids, they do provide fascinating fields of study, intriguing many by their elusive behavior.
The conclusion is not definite. We cannot decide for you. We wish to provide the evidence, make our own speculations, and leave the rest for the reader to decide.
1. Monsters of the Sea. The Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut. Richard Ellis. ©1994.
Special thanks to the Mote Aquarium of Sarasota, Florida.