How Squid Work

Monsters of the Deep: Giant and Colossal Squid

For thousands of years, people have told tales of giant, many armed sea monsters. In Homer's "Odyssey," Odysseus had to navigate his boat around a many-headed sea monster called Scylla. Jules Verne later wrote of giant squid attacking the Nautilus submarine in "20,000 Leagues under the Sea." These legends were likely based on real sightings of the giant squid (Architeuthis), the world's largest invertebrate, and the biggest member of its species.

These enormous animals, which live deep in the Atlantic Ocean, can reach lengths of 60 feet and can weigh nearly 1,000 pounds. They have eyes the size of soccer balls, and 35-foot-long tentacles lined with suckers measuring two inches each in diameter.

A giant squid caught by a deep-water fishing trawl in the waters around New Zealand and Australia
Image courtesy NASA/SeaWiFS
A giant squid caught by a deep-water fishing trawler in the waters around New Zealand and Australia in 1999

Very little is known about giant squid, because they are so rarely seen. Until recently, the only time scientists had seen giant squid was when they found them among the stomach contents of sperm whales (their only predators). The sucker-shaped scars on the whales' jaws and lips attested to the battle the whales had to put up in order to capture their prey.

In 2005, a team of Japanese marine biologists was able to capture photographs of the elusive giant squid swimming deep in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. It took three years for the scientists to locate the squid, which they accomplished by following the migratory patterns of sperm whales. They captured the photos while the squid was attacking bait on a line. The squid became caught up in the line, and struggled for more than four hours to free itself. During the struggle, it lost one of its tentacles, which the scientists recovered. It measured 18 feet in length. A year later, the researchers were finally able to actually capture a giant squid.

A giant squid caught by a deep-water fishing trawl in the waters around New Zealand and Australia
Image courtesy Associated Press/KOJI SASAHARA/ Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum of Japan, HO
A giant squid attacks a bait squid as it is pulled up by Tsunemi Kubodera's research team off the Ogasawara Islands, south of Tokyo, on December 4, 2006. About seven meters (24 feet) long, the squid died in the process of being caught.

In recent years, scientists have also learned more about the giant squid's equally intimidating relative, the colossal squid (mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). In 2007, a New Zealand boat was on a fishing expedition in Antarctic waters when its lines snagged something much larger than fish. The fisherman struggled for nearly two hours to pull the colossal squid onto the boat. It weighed 990 pounds, and, according to news records of the event, had the squid been cooked, it would have produced calamari "the size of tractor tires." The colossal squid was frozen and taken to New Zealand's national museum for further study.

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