Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Apple #52: Giant Squid


The story goes that there are enormous squid who live in deep, deep waters. They've never been seen in their habitat, or they've been glimpsed long ago. So I'm wondering, are there really such things as giant squid, or is this some kind of urban legend gone ocean?

Answer: they exist. Below, a museum curator examines a female giant squid that washed up onshore in Tasmania, Australia in 2002.

Photo from "Giant Squid Washes Ashore in Tasmania," National Geographic News, July 26, 2002, printed in NGN with permission from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
  • People have seen them. Every once in a great while, since the 1800's, somebody spots one. People on steamer ships, on fishing boats, and on military vessels see giant things floating in the water, and when they look closer, they realize the thing in the water has a great big long head and many arms or tentacles: a great big squid. Sounds like something made up, I know, but even a regular squid looks like a made-up thing.

This photo was taken in November 2005 by Japanese researchers who saw an actual giant squid and tempted it with bait, as shown in this photo.
(Photo by Kubodera and Mori, posted at Science News for Kids)

(The photo I originally had up here was taken down, and I discovered this some months after I originally posted this entry. In looking for a replacement photo, I learned of these news giant squid developments!)

  • People have witnessed giant squid locked in combat with other things. One time people watched from a lighthouse while an enormous squid wrapped its long arms around a young whale and then tried to drag the whale under and drown it. This struggle went on for four and a half hours.
  • A Norwegian tanker was also attacked by a squid. Three times, the squid wrapped its arms around the hull. The squid never got a good grip and slid off and fell into the ship's propellers.
  • Twice, people have seen a squid floating in the water alongside their ships. One man noted that the squid was as long as his trawler, which was one hundred seventy-five feet long.
  • One man, on his 110-foot boat which was attacked by a squid, said that he looked out the porthole and saw the squid's tentacle. It was thicker than his leg.
  • Dead squid have been found in the bellies of sperm whales, which themselves are huge. More squid have washed up on beaches. One that washed up in Australia in 2002 weighed 250 kilograms and measured 60 feet long.
  • Scientists think that these giant squid can survive only in very deep water, where the temperature is cold enough to keep the oxygen levels steady in their blood. (but if this is true, how were all those squid who have been seen at the surface able to survive?)
  • The squid is carnivorous and believed to feed on some of the world's largest creatures -- whales -- though it is likely the squid also eats other ocean animals too.
  • It has a beak-like mouth strong enough to cut through steel cable. Its eyes can be as large as 18 inches across.
  • The suckers on the giant squid's tentacles are used to hang onto prey. They are estimated to measure only about 2 to 5 cm in diameter, or at their largest, about as wide as two or three of your fingers together.
  • Apparently, giant squid also have ears. After several squid washed up onshore in Spain, following several offshore seismic surveys conducted in the area, scientists reported that the dead squid had suffered numerous internal injuries and that their ears were also badly damaged. From the description in the article about the incident, it sounds like basically their ears ruptured, possibly due to suffocation.
  • It has been difficult to learn much more about them because the dead squid which have been found decompose very quickly, so that often only a partial squid actually remains.
  • It moves the way all squid do, by siphoning water through its body in a rhythmic jet. The motion of the water through the squid's body also refreshes the gills with oxygen; in other words, the way the squid moves is also the way it breathes.

Fishing for Giant Squid, Science News for Kids, November 2, 2005
Smithsonian Institution, Architeuthis Dux (classification name for giant squid)
Giant Squid Washes Up on Beach," CNN, July 22, 2002
Seismic surveys may kill squid,", September 22, 2004
Sea Base Alpha: Giant Squid
The UnMuseum,
Giant Squid

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