Mark Grossman: The Giant Squid – Devilfish, Sea Serpent, Monster of the Deep?

20 February 2014

In early January, off Japan’s Sadogashima Island, fisherman Shigenori Goto made an extreme rare catch – a giant squid.  Hauling in his net from a depth of about 300 feet the fisherman was confronted by something other than the fish he expected – a 12 foot squid weighing about 300 pounds.  Now being studied at the Fisheries Ocean Research Institute in Niigata Prefecture, the undersea giant lived only a few minutes after being brought to the surface.

[image] Giant squid caught in net

Even this “giant” squid can barely compare to the record length of 40 feet and the record weight of nearly a ton.  But even this incredible size is nothing compared the legends that have been inspired by the giant squid.  Fishermen notoriously exaggerate the size of “the one that got away” and, historically, seafarers did the same with the size and nature of the giant squid.

[video] Giant Squid

There is a Norse legend of a tentacled sea monster called the “kraken.”  Bigger than the biggest giant squid, it was said to grow as a large as an island and would gobble up whole ships.  Encounters, not with the “whole” giant squid, but sightings of its tentacles rising up out of the water have resulted in countless legends of sea monsters.  Witnesses, seeing only the giant squid’s tentacles have imaginatively described the unseen monster lurking below the surface.

[image] Sea Monster

Squid became a particular focus of study for naturalists from 1870 to 1880.   During that decade, a large number of squid became stranded in shallow waters near the shores of Newfoundland and New Zealand.  Most often, these squid died, and their remains washed up on a beach, more or less intact.  However, there was at least one reported attack of an adult and a child in a small fishing boat off Bell Island, Newfoundland.  These years were the peak of what came to be called the squid “strandings.”  Though in smaller numbers, strandings have continued to the present day.

[image] stranded squid

In the distant past, the washed-up remains of dead squid were often thought to be sea monsters.  The squid even came to share, along with several other sea creatures, the nickname “devilfish.”  In fact, squid are pretty scary looking.  I like to say squid have 10 arms.  But, in fact, I’m mixing and adding the arms with, and to, the tentacles.  Technically, squid have eight “arms” and two “tentacles.”

But, whether arms or tentacles, both are lined with hundreds of suckers — suction cups about 1 to 2 inches wide.   Each of the suckers is lined with a full set of “teeth” or serrated rings that pierce the flesh and, together with the suction, attach the squid to its prey.  The suction cups run the length of the arms forming a circle around the squid’s month, or rather, its beak, which strongly resembles that of a parrot.

[image] Squid suckers

Like octopuses, squid use jet propulsion to move through the water. They pull water into their body (mantle cavity) and push water out in rhythmic pulses that propel the animal through the ocean.  Their “jet” accounts for most of the their movement, but gets a little help from the squid’s small fins. Unlike most fish, which have a gas filled swim bladder that regulates their depth in the water, the giant squid maintains its depth through the presence of an ammonium chloride solution throughout its body.  Lighter than sea water, the solution allows the squid to regulate its depth.  And it has quite a range.

Although data is incomplete, giant squid seem to roam in a range of depths between 1,000 to 3,000 feet.  The comfort of the squid at such darkness may be because of its eyes, which are the largest of any living creature: 11 inches wide.  Large eyes are more sensitive to light and can detect even small changes in tone.  Extremely light-sensitive vision would serve the squid well in the darkness of these they feed on deep-sea fish and other squid species.

Giant squid are found throughout the world.  They seem to prefer moderate temperatures and are seldom found in either tropical or arctic waters.  Although fierce predators, themselves, giant squid often become food for sperm whales.  These giant whales are, possibly, the giant squid’s only predator.  Much of our knowledge of how the giant squid’s suckers affect its prey come from scars left on sperm whales after their struggle to make a meal out of a giant squid.




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Mark Grossmann of Illinois & Missouri

Resident of Hazelwood, Missouri Formerly Belleville, Illinois Career History: Illinois Attorney College Instructor Campus Chair Paralegal Studies Program Most recently: blogging on entirely random subjects

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