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.
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.
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.
For lots more information about squid, check out the links on the next page.
- How Jellyfish Work
- How Sharks Work
- How Shark Attacks Work
- How Whales Work
- How SCUBA Works
- How to Cook Seafood
- How do fish rise and sink in the ocean?
- Do whales and dolphins sleep?
- How do stingrays kill?
- If water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, why can't we breathe underwater?
More Great Links
- Atkinson, Nick W. "Squid Secrets." Natural History, February 2007, pg. 15.
- "Calamari the Size of Tractor Tires." Toronto Star, February 23, 2007.
- The Cephalopod Page
- Fordham, Alice. "Scientists Get their Giant Squid at Last…But Kill it in the Struggle." The Times (London), December 23, 2006.
- "Giant Squid." Encyclopedia of Animals, 2006.
- Griggs, Kim. "Super Squid Surfaces in Antarctic." April 2, 2003. BBC News.
- "Loligo Squid." Encyclopedia of Animals, 2006.
- Levy, Charles Kingsley. "Evolutionary Wars: A Three-Billion-Year Arms Race." New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1999.
- "Octopus, Cuttlefish, and Squid." Compton's by Britannica, 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online School Edition. May 16, 2007.
- Onion, Amanda. "Could Warming Lead to Squid Boom?" ABC News, November 15, 2004.
- Owen, James. "Holy Squid! Photos Offer First Glimpse of Live Deep-Sea Giant." National Geographic News, September 27, 2005.
- Philips, Matthew. "How the Colossal Squid Was Caught." MSNBC, March 7, 2007.
- Pinet, Paul. R. "Invitation to Oceanography." Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2006.
- Roper, Clyde F. E. and Peter D. Ward. "Cephalopoda." AccessScience@McGraw Hill. Last modified October 23, 2001.
- "Scientists Capture Giant Squid on Camera." MSNBC, Sept 28, 2005.
- "Squid." Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. May 16, 2007.
- UnMuseum: The Giant Squid
- "Vampire Squid." Encyclopedia of Animals, 2006.
- Young, Richard E. "Deep-Sea Squid." AccessScience@McGraw Hill. Last modified November 4, 2002.