Sunday, March 11, 2007

How big is the Giant Squid anyways?

Dear Constant Readers,

After writing a recent blog about Mighty Mesonychoteuthis, I began wondering again about how big the giant squid itself got. I was somewhat surprised a few years ago when Dr. Steve O'Shea said that "Architeuthis is not known to exceed a mantle length of 2.25 meters" on his fact sheet. He had examined himself over 100 specimens of the genus, so obviously his word carries a lot of weight. The record weight was 275 kg (600 lbs) and the length was 13 meters (42 feet) according to him as well. There does seem to have been a lot of exaggeration concerning the overall length of the squids because of the stretchy nature of the tentacles.

Using this list of published records by Michael Sweeney, however, we are able to see that there are a number of reports exceeding the mantle length and weight:

November 30, 1861. Canary Islands: 15-18 foot (4.5 to 5.5 m) body length.

October, 1871. Grand Banks, Newfoundland: 15 foot (4.5 m) body and weighing around 2000 pounds (~900 kg). The jaw was preserved and used for the syntype for Architeuthis princeps by Verrill.

1872. Coomb's Cove, Newfoundland: 10 foot (3 m) body.

December 1872. Bonivista Bay, Newfoundland: Estimated 14 foot (4.25 m) body.

October 26, 1873. Conception Bay, Newfoundland: 10 foot (3 m) body. A photograph accurate enough for measurements was taken.

December, 1874. Fortune Bay, Newfoundland: 12-13 foot (~3.75 m) body and head length.

October, 1875. Grand Banks, Newfoundland: Weighed 1000 pounds (450 kg).

November 21, 1877. Trinity Bay, Newfoundland: 11 foot (3.35 m) head and body.

November 2, 1877. Thimble Tickle, Newfoundland: 20 foot (6 m) head and body. Once regarded by Guinness as the world's largest invertebrate.

December 2, 1878. Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland: 15 foot (4.5 m) head and body.

November 1, 1879. Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland: 9 foot (2.75 m) body.

May 23, 1879. Lyall Bay, New Zealand: 9'2" (2.8 m) mantle length.

June 30, 1886. Cape Campbell, New Zealand: 8'3" (2.5 m) mantle length.

1930? Goose Bay, New Zealand: 11 foot (3.35 m) body length.

1945. Pahau River Mouth, New Zealand. >1 ton (>900 kg)

August, 1961. Azores: 2.4 m (7'11") mantle length.

May 14, 1993. Morne Brabant, Mauritius: 4.5 m (14'9") mantle length, 240 kg (530 lbs)

It should be noted that there were at least a couple hundred other squid size records exist and the average size is certainly nowhere near these sizes. So what on earth is happening here? Perhaps some of them can be dismissed as being incorrectly typed (mantle length might be total length for the last one) or exaggerations, but I don't think that they can all be explained this way. Judging from these records, it would appear that Newfoundland experienced a very odd series of extremely large Architeuthis squids in the late 19th century. Is there some sort of connection between the stranding frequency and the very large size? I will say that O'Shea's maximum size, while not the historical maximum, is a lot more appropriate for the type of animal likely to be encountered. Who knows if we'll see an Architeuthis with a 4 or 5 meter mantle again...if anybody actually ever had before.

The story continues here.



The record sized specimens of Architeuthis (left) and Mesonychoteuthis (right) flank the enourmous alleged specimen from Thimble Tickle. While that specimen has been considered the official largest squid specimen for some time, it should be noted that it is supported only by anecdotal evidence.


Anonymous said...

That would explain all of the pictures of octopi and squids being left around the house...

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I believe that the Thimble Tickle squid - if it existed at all - could have been 20 feet - if that is the length including the eight arms. It was stated as being 35 feet total length, and that correlates 'somewhat' well with a ~20 foot mantle/head/arms length. Or maybe it was really a colossal squid? 20 feet length excluding the two longer tentacles, and 35 including the tentacles?

Just imagine if they had to cut up a twenty foot squid body into dog fodder. A daunting task, if you ask me.

But, in reality I simply suspect that they lied, they're fishermen, after all. It's just that their tall tale became publicly known, unlike most fishermen's tall tales. You're not a 'real' fisherman unless you have couple of good and entertaining tall tales to tell.

After all, where's the beak? No beak = no squid.

Cameron McCormick said...

If you're interested Anon, here's the original description of the Thimble Tickle from Verrill's North American Cephalopods:

The capture of this specimen has been graphically described by
Mr. Harvey, in a letter to the Boston Traveller, of Jan. 30, 1879.
" On the 2d day of November last, Stephen Sherring, a fisherman
residing in Thimble Tickle, not far from the locality where the other
devil-fish [No. 19], was cast ashore, was out in a boat with two other men; not far from the shore they observed some bulky object, and, supposing it might be part of a wreck, they rowed toward it, and, to their horror, found themselves close to a huge fish, having large
glassy eyes, which was making desperate efforts to escape, and churning the water into foam by the motion of its immense arms and tail. It was aground and the tide was ebbing. From the funnel at the
back of its head it was ejecting large volumes of water, this being its method of moving backward, the force of the stream, by the reaction of the surrounding medium, driving it in the required direction. At times the water from the siphon was black as ink."

" Finding the monster partially disabled, the fishermen plucked up
courage and ventured near enough to throw the grapnel of their
boat, the sharp flukes of which, having barbed points, sunk into the
soft body. To the grapnel they had attached a stout rope which they had carried ashore and tied to a tree, so as to prevent the fish
from going out with the tide. It was a happy thought, for the devilfish found himself eftectually moored to the shore. His struggles
were terrific as he flung his ten arms about in dying agony. The
fishermen took care to keep a respectful distance from the long tentacles, which ever and anon darted out like great tongues IVom the central mass. At length it became exhausted, and as the water receded it expired.

"The fishermen, alas! knowing no better, proceeded to conv-ert it
into dog's meat. It was a splendid specimen—the largest yet taken
—the body measuring 20 feet from the beak to the extremity of
the tail. It was thus exactly double the size of the New York specimen, and five feet longer than the one taken by Budgell. The circumference of the body is not stated, but one of the arms measured 35 feet. This must have been a tentacle."


But I agree, this is so much larger than any well-documented specimen that physical proof is needed to confirm it was anywhere near the reported size.