The mystery of the giant squid

A giant squid sculpture.

Three Newfoundlanders—Daniel, Theophilus, along with twelve-year-old Tom—were fishing in their little dory when they noticed an unusual object floating nearby.

Out of curiosity they hit it with a boat hook.

What a shock they received!

Suddenly the waters foamed and a giant squid appeared, attacking them with its flailing tentacles, finally wrapping these around their boat and threatening to capsize it.

Quickly young Tom grabbed the hatchet they were using to cut bait and chopped off a tentacle of the monster.

To their great relief, it then gave up the fight and slid back into the ocean.

But if it were not for the portion of the tentacle that lay in the bottom of the boat, it is doubtful that the other fishermen at Conception Bay would have believed their terrifying account.

The tentacle portion measured nineteen feet long and three and a half inches around.

For centuries people had heard of legendary sea monsters of all descriptions.

It may well be that some of these hair-raising accounts were occasioned by sightings of what scientists now refer to as the greatest living cephalopod, the giant squid.

Imagine sighting a sea creature about sixty feet long, having eight powerful arms and two longer tentacles attached to a bullet-shaped body.

Its eyes are the size of plates.

Its parrot-like beak of a mouth is strong enough to cut heavy wire.

It is the largest creature on earth without a backbone.

Discovery of giant squids

Sailors capture a giant squid sea monster.

Although one can find smaller squids in every ocean, there being over 300 different kinds, the giant species lives at depths of 1,500 to 3,000 feet.

No wonder it is seldom seen by humans!

Although old records tell of sailors’ sighting and even capturing these marine giants, such incidents were usually discounted by scientists until about a century ago.

The skepticism was caused to some extent by fanciful stories.

Scientists got their first good look at Archy the Squid, as we might call it, in the 1870’s.

For some unknown reason, possibly due to oceanic changes, many surfaced off the coast of Canada. They were sighted and some were captured.

Then in November 1873, just a month after the three Newfoundland fishermen were almost drowned by one, a giant squid was caught and carefully examined.

It turned out to be a thirty-two-foot specimen.

Giant Arms with Swivel Suckers

Illustration of a giant squid attacking a whale.

Because of its long, snakelike arms, many think that the giant squid is some kind of octopus.

But not so.

There are many differences.

The octopus has a round, baggy body with eight tentacles.

The largest may weigh fifty pounds and have an arm spread of about ten feet.

Now picture the giant squid. It is ten times the size of the largest octopus.

Its cylindrical body is about fifteen feet long, with, not just eight, but ten of the most awesome arms imaginable.

Eight of these arms can reach out as much as twelve feet.

In addition it has two tentacles with sucker-studded tips that can stretch out forty to fifty feet!

The arms also have rows of sucker disks raised on short, flexible stalks that allow the suckers to swivel in any direction.

And, depending on the species, these suckers may have sharp teeth around their rims or claws that can be sheathed or extended at will.

Just fine for catching and holding on to a potential meal with slippery skin!

Jet-powered speedster

An illustration of a giant squid powerful long tentacles.

While the octopus crawls along the ocean floor and lives in crevices, Archy the Squid will be found swimming about in the open sea.

Using two fins along the sides of his body, he can cruise in leisurely fashion.

But when he wants to go places in a hurry, he goes by jet!

In some species this jet thrust is sufficient to hurl him out of the water and a hundred feet through the air.

How is this possible?

The mantle holds the secret.

The mantle is composed of thick skin and muscles that not only protect the vital organs of the squid but also give it its propulsion with jet power.

When the muscles in the mantle relax, water enters through a loose edge around the neck and fills up large cavities inside.

Then as the mantle contracts, the opening is sealed and the water is forced out under high pressure through a funnel-like passage underneath the head.

By changing the direction of this “nozzle,” the squid can get instant reverse thrust, moving forward or backward without turning.

If frightened, the unusually large nerves of the squid trigger a spontaneous generation of power that propels it at top speed in moments.

These nerve fibers, which are one hundred times the size of man’s, are so sensitive that when the squid is threatened, a nerve impulse flashes to all parts of the mantle simultaneously.

Reacting with tremendous force, the muscles contract to create a powerful jetlike thrust.

Other Unusual Equipment

The squid is literally a blue blood of the marine world. 

Its blood has a bluish color because of a copper compound in it.

When it has been depleted of oxygen, it is cycled through the gills by two hearts, pumping it into one gill each.

Then a systemic heart serves to pump the fresh blood through the tissues.

So, the squid actually has three hearts!

The organs of this living jet engine give wonderful testimony to the handiwork of its Creator.

Archy and his mate are each equipped with an ink sac.

This releases large amounts of black fluid for camouflage, shooting out a blob approximately squid-size to confuse pursuers.

An underwater “smoke screen”!

Also helping the squid to elude attackers are small color cells that give it the ability to change colors.

These cells are so efficient that they can closely match the color of their background, even causing a wave of color to flow across the body of the squid as it swims from one background to another.

Giant, indeed, are the eyes of this amazing sea monster.

They may grow to fifteen inches in diameter, which is as large as some beach balls.

Mr. Squid’s eyes are surprisingly similar to the human eye.

Both have eyelids, transparent corneas, outer and inner chambers, retinas, lenses, rod cells yielding black and white images and cone cells for registering color impressions.

The structural resemblance is so striking that Dr. N. J. Berrill, a noted biologist, commented:

“I think if you asked any zoologist to select the single most startling feature in the whole animal kingdom, the chances are he would say, not the human eye, which by any account is an organ amazing beyond belief, nor the squid-octopus eye, but the fact that these two eyes, man’s and squid’s, are alike in almost every detail.”

The 100,000 receptors per square millimeter in the eye of the squid make it possible to see even fine detail.

A question of size

Preserved squid.

The largest one examined was found in Lyall Bay, New Zealand, and measured fifty-seven feet long.

But only twelve different species of these giants have been classified, and it is possible that other larger ones may exist.

In fact, some evidence suggests this.

For example, sperm whales live almost exclusively on squids, from the smaller species to the giants.

Many of these huge whales weighing fifty tons have deep cuts from encounters with the giant squid.

Often their skin is pocked with circular scars measuring from two and a half to four inches across.

These were apparently inflicted by the suckers on the squid’s tentacles during wild undersea battles, as these scars are approximately the size of the sucker disks on a fifty-foot squid.

But if sucker size is proportionate to the size of the squid, then the oceans may contain some truly enormous giants.


Because some of these scars measure eighteen inches in diameter!

By comparison, a squid with eighteen-inch suckers would be about two hundred feet long.

The existence of such gigantic squids has never been confirmed, and it is true that these large scars may have been the result of the suckers stretching the supple skin of the whale.