Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ludicrous Giant Squid Claims

Dear Constant Readers,

I imagine you thought the previous post was a bit short, didn't you? This was originally the second half of my previous post; but because of divergent tone and topic, I felt obliged to split it up. Giant squid size, though controversial, is still in the realm of Zoology. But now we're going to go on a little adventure into the fringe world of Cryptozoology. Bernard Heuvelmans, the founder (of sorts) of Cryptozoology wrote a book on the giant squid; a condensed form of which appeared in his In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents. If you thought the reported giant squids bigger than O'Shea's likely maximum of a 2.25 m (7'5") mantle length were a little out're in for something.

Heuvelmans did indeed recognize that there was a disrepancy in the size of "modern" giant squid washing up and those that were reported from Newfoundland, and mentioned that some scientists considered the earlier reports to be exaggerated. Heuvelmans, however, thought he had a more modern account of a squid in the same size class. On October 25, 1924, a Mr. White and Mr. Strachan was a "record octopus" (with 10 appendages) laying on the beach near Baven-on-Sea, Natal, South Africa. White made an illustration, but admitted that the nature was poor. The illustrations have it a total width of 24 feet (7.3 m) outstretched, a total length (including mutilated tentacles) of 28 feet (8.5 m), a tentacle circumference of 8 feet (2.4 m), and a body width of 9 feet (2.75 m). Judging from the illustration it appeared the entire mantle fell off and the arms reduced to stumps, but Heuvelmans judged the total length to be...115 feet long (35) including outstretched tentacles! He himself admitted that it was mutilated and possibly not an Architeuthis. He didn't seem aware of Mesonychoteuthis, but a severely mutilated, wayward, and exaggerated specimen of that could account for this report, assuming it has a basis in reality. This report doesn't appear to be officially recognized anywhere.

It appears that in Newfoundland, there were some unofficial specimens that dwarfed even the Thimble Tickle specimen. A fellow named Alexander Murray was the source of some of these reports. He had a firsthand account of a squid that washed up near St. John's, Newfoundland in November 1873 with a 7'9" (2.35 m) body and head. Since this made it on the official Architeuthis list, this demonstrates the he's at least reliable. Then he went on to make some genuinely alarming claims. He related a story from a Mr. Pike who saw a gigantic squid that measured...gulp...80 feet (24 m) from beak to tail. That's not counting tentacles, that's the beak and head! Could it have been a typo for 8 feet (2.4 m) or an exaggerated account including outstretched tentacles? A second story related by one Mr. Haddon mentioned a squid 90 feet long. Even if that's measuring extremely outstretched tentacles, it is still far beyond O'Shea's proposed maximum normal length of 13 m (37 feet)! Suffice to say, no scientist has included this unverified tales in their dossier, and probably for good reason. Whatever truth may have been behind these rumors has probably been extremely diluted.

Even less convincing than vague size reports are mentions of very large sucker scars on sperm whales. Heuvelmans cited a Mr. L. Harrison Matthews who wrote that sucker scars commonly reach 10 cm (4 inches), which Heuvelmans thought would imply squids with a head and body of more than 30 feet (9 m). Ivan T. Sanderson, another "founder" of Cryptozoology, wrote in his book Follow the Whale that sucker marks have been known to reach 18 inches (0.45 m) in diameter. And Heuvelmans then goes on to mention that Willy Ley, a proto-Cryptozoologist of sorts, talked about sucker marks 2 feet (0.6 m) in diameter! Heuvelmans fortunately thought this to be a typo of sorts, and I'll agree. So assuming that there were suckers marks that big in the first place, the normal explanation is that they're the result of scars on a young individual growing as they do. Of course, these sucker marks may not be from Architeuthis, but perhaps from a species with proportionally larger suckers. Perhaps they came from another source, such as lamprey bites. Heuvelmans appears to find these explanations less likely than absolutely gargantuan squids hundreds of feet long, demonstrating a skewed idea of probability that Cryptozoologists often have.

To try and make the gigantic sucker sizes seem more rational, Heuvelmans mentions a handful of tales of squid arms measuring up to 45 feet long and 2'6" thick. He reasons that instead of being tentacles (which could theoretically stretch that long), they were in fact the shorter arms. Since the arms are often shorter than the mantle length, he estimates squid with lengths excluding the long tentacles up 54 to 90 feet long (16.5 to 27.5 m) long. He then proposed that with the long tentacles they could reach 100 to 240 feet (30 to 73 m) if male, and up to 300 feet if they were female (91.5 m). Holy crap! He seems to be using a rather outdated size model, and using O'Shea's drawing of a giant squid (he of course actually studies them), I'd still figure that it would have to be 130 feet (39.5 m) long with 45 foot arms tops. Of course, in all likelihood these probably were just tentacles, and exaggerated ones at that. Heuvelmans rationalized that since so many of the Newfoundland squids were described on anecdotal evidence, that these reports should be just as good. Of course, he overlooked the obvious explanation.

So despite looking like he was overlooking historical evidence, Dr. O'Shea was in fact just ignoring bad evidence. Sure there were probably a few Architeuthis specimens in the past that exceeded his limit, but they're simply not the super-gigantic monsters that is so commonly imagined. Even with the larger Colossal Squid, I still don't think Architeuthis is an unimpressive animal at all...even if it isn't 300 feet long.



Please note that Heuvelmans actually proposed giant squids over 100 feet as a cryptid (i.e. unknown) species on his checklist from 1986. Apparently somewhere along the line he realized that the claims of ridiculously large size clearly don't reconcile well with Architeuthis. There is a sighting of a very large squid reported at night during WWII by one A. G. Starkey off the Maldives. He was of course alone on deck and saw a squid laying alongside the 175 foot (53 m) boat, taking up most of the length. He said the arms were 2 feet wide (0.6 m) and that the beak was visible. That last detail is rather odd, and I'm inclined to think that the whole story is either an extreme exaggeration or an outright fabrication.

Another outrageous story, also told in the citation-free There are Giants in the Sea by Michael Bright, was told by a Canadian fellow named Charles Dudoward, supposedly to Paul LeBlond and John Sibert in "Observations of Large Unidentified Marine Creatures in British Colombia and Adjacent Waters". In 1892, Dudoward's grandfather was assisting in the moving of a 100 foot (or 30 m) log bloom when suddenly it stopped. It apparently squished a squid bigger than the bloom itself which had an arm over 100 feet (or 30 m) with suckers ranging from saucer-sized to basin plate size...and the end had a hook! Dudoward himself encountered a squid like this in 1922 when on washed up near "Roberson D. Rudge's Port Simpson Hotel". It had arms 50 feet (15.2 m) long and a surviving tentacle 100 feet (30 m) long. The tentacle ended in a hook 10" (25 cm) wide and 12 in (31 cm) long. It was eventually towed out to sea. I've never heard of a cephalopod with a giant hook instead of tentacle clubs (any teuthologists out there know of any?) and I'm incredibly suspicious of these stories to say the least. Didn't anybody save the giant claw or at least take a photo? If it was based off anything, it was probably Onykia "Moroteuthis" robusta, a nearly Architeuthis-sized species which has hooks on its tentacle clubs. Actually, the clubs apparently look somewhat hook-like themselves too. More on that species later...

I was initially hesitant of including this information because of the poor citations and apparent non-Architeuthid (and hence not a giant squid) nature of some of the subjects. But heck, it wasn't going to fit in anywhere else. If anybody else knows of any outrageous gigantic cephalopod stories, let me know. Even though squid are apparently the most highly exaggerated animals on the planet, these stories do have a certain appeal.

Further Addendum:

And why not just make a long post even longer?

Oh, how could I resist photo mock-ups of just how big Heuvelmans's (Heuvelmans'?) giant squid propositions are? And no, please do not think that these are serious in any way. I don't care if any of my images are reproduced...I do care if they show up on some Cryptozoology website presenting them seriously! I am seriously questioning how Heuvelmans got a doctorate degree anyways after realizing how absurd this stuff is...

Using Dr. O'Shea's Illustrations, this is how big the owner of 45 foot arms would be. I have no idea how Heuvelmans got a figure of up to 200-300 feet. Above this monster is me (at an alarming 5'8.5" or 1.74 m) and the actual record size for an Architeuthis. Please pay attention to the very large 60 foot (18 m) bull sperm whale below. The arms supposedly came from the stomach of this sort of whale...but how could the above squid possibly end up inside the whale? Did it just eat an arm or something? How could the whale possibly survive an encounter with something this big, even with its fancy sonar gun nose.

Here is the implication of Mr. Pike's giant squid with a head and body 80 feet long. Mind you, these aren't just any sea creatures surrounding it, but gigantic freaks themselves that are the largest of their respective kinds. I, of course, deviously re-used them from this previous post. This squid even beats out the super-gigantic dinosaur Amphicoelias fragilimus who's very (probable) existence I find deeply troubling. I suppose an animal as large as this squid could theoretically support itself in water, but squids of course have a "grow fast, live hard, die young" sort of lifestyle. I find it incredible that such fast growing creatures (with a lifespan of only a couple years) can get as big as they do.

And our finishing piece. Here you can see the two previous super-gigantic squid entries and the Thimble Tickle squid flanking the hypothetical uber-Cephalopod Heuvelmans proposed from 18 inch sucker marks. His proposition did recognize that a squid this size was problematical, but he did little to deny it. The building in the back is, of course, the Empire State Building which stands 1250 feet (381 m) to the roof and 1454 feet (443 m) to the top of the antennae. I was thinking about having the Hindenburg in the background, but thought that might be too ridiculous.

Alright, I'm definitely done with addendums now.


Caitling said...

Not nearly enough things in the ocean are giant enough. I think they should also be included in more maps. Here There Be Monsters and other things of the like.

I love all of your pictures, they make the blogs worth while. Isn't it wonderful knowing that so many things can eat us?

The Hindenburg is never ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Ivan Sanderson, he's one of the people whose "data" can safely be ignored. He was a boyhood hero of mine(I loved his books "Animal Treasure " and Caribbean Treasure"). Sadly, I have since come to realise that he was wildly untruthful. He was an excellent writer, so his unlikely tales read very convincingly.
You haven't mentioned the famous "giant octopus" of Florida. That's never been finally proven or refuted.
On the subject of teeth, Guinness used to list megalodon as the biggest extinct fish, on the strength of mistaken reconstructions extrapolated from teeth. There was even a novel called "Megalodon" and, (I think) a movie!

Cameron McCormick said...

I've also heard that ol' Ivan was a teller of tall tales but I haven't looked further into the matter. I always found it more than a little odd that he experienced a giant unknown flying animal, invisible people throwing stones, a giant pink salamander, and so forth. Sigh...could make for an interesting post I suppose.

As for the "octopus", amazingly I was working on the subject of globsters for my next post. It has been identified but, well, here's a spoiler at your own risk:


(last warning)

It's a whale

Anonymous said...

Cameron- re Sanderson. He describes seeing a gigantic water monster in a West Sfrican river about 1930. If that were me, I'd have spent the rest of my life raising money to go back and investigate. But ol' Ivan just goes home and carries on with his life. My main problem with a lot of monster sightings, is the casual way the witnesses behave after what would be a life-changing experience.

Anonymous said...

I am not a supporter of any cryptozoologist's claim or whatever (I don't even knew that guy), but I wonder how big the cephalopods of Panthalassic ocean could have been, prior to whales and with a head start. Apparently there's a causal correlation between the extension of landmasses and the sizes of the living organisms (you got huge sauropods in Pangaea and inversely, insular dwarfism), so I think that something similar may occur with oceans as well, the same logic applies to some extent. If such huge animals exist even today, with the competition of whales, I wonder how big they could have been in the past, with more space and less competition.


Ogopogo said...

I am practically a "disciple of Heuvelmans" but even I admit it is pure stupidity to imaging that a sperm whale could actually survive an attack by a giant squid as big as the one in the bottom picture.