Friday, June 19, 2020

Visit from a giant squid

So, down in South Africa, a giant squid washed ashore, apparently very recently deceased and nearly intact. Teuthologists love this kind of rare event, because they rarely get a chance to examine intact giants. Until 2012, there was no film or video of a live one.  When this one was spotted by beachgoers, the curator for marine invertebrates at Iziko Museums of South Africa hurried out and got it into a freezer for study. He estimated the animal was about 4 m long and weighed perhaps 330kg. That might not trigger everyone's definition of "giant," but the average weight of a human is 62kg, so imagine encountering this at sea. UPDATE: Rereading this, the estimate of 330kg is way too high - it did not come from the scientist but from the person who found it on the beach. Thanks to Markus Buhler for pointing this out. 
Everyone asks how big Architeuthis dux gets. It's (probably) not the most massive squid in the sea: the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, Latin for "What the hell is that?"), with its heavier build, takes that crown.  Architeuthis is the longest squid but not the longest marine invertebrate, since we know of a sea worm - the bootlace worm, Lineus longissimus - of 55 meters. The lion's mane jelly can have tentacles trailing for 36 m, an a siphonophore drifting in a giant spiral through the ocean 600m down, spotted earlier this year off Australia, was guessed to be about 45 m. 
A paper by Igner Winklemann et. al., published by the Royal Society, offers these estimates for the giant squid: "while claims have been made of individuals measuring up to 50 m in total length, a more realistic estimate is a maximum total length of 18 m for females, with males reaching slightly smaller sizes."
The 50 claim is sourced to Richard Ellis' book on the animal, which does not claim they get that big, only that it's been reported. (Ellis, 1998,The Search for the Giant Squid, from The Lyons Press). Basically the source for 50m is one guy, a WWII sailor named A.J. Starkey.  However, the late Peter Benchley wrote that a distinguished teuthologist once told him squid of  50 feet (46 m) were "highly probable," so that's intriguing.)  
The 18 m is from a paper by Claude Roper, who spent a lifetime on this creature. (Roper CFE, Sweeney MJ; Nauen CE1984FAO species catalogue, vol. 3. "Cephalopods of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of species of interest to fisheries." FAO Fish Synop. 3, 1–277.)
And that is where we leave our enigmatic friend for today.  

Below: Squid Sculpture in Newfoundland (Pixabay, labeled as free for use, photographer unknown).
Newfoundland was the site of several famous squid strandings and encounters. in the late 19th century,
Squid Sculpture, Statue, Giant Squid

Below: the ultimate squid, the legendary kraken. (Pixabay, labeled as free for use, artist unknown)

Boat, Kraken, Tentacle, Octopus, Squid

Oh, and because it's mandated by law that all squid article must include this, here's Tennyson's take on the kraken.  He manages to imbue it with even more dramatic imagery than the old Scandinavian sailors who clamed it could be mistaken for an island. 

The Kraken

Below the thunders of the upper deep ;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth : faintest sunlights fleeAbout his shadowy sides : above him swellHuge sponges of millennial growth and height;And far away into the sickly light,From many a wondrous grot and secret cellUnnumber’d and enormous polypiWinnow with giant arms the slumbering green.There hath he lain for ages and will lieBattening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,Until the latter fire shall heat the deep ;Then once by man and angels to be seen,In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

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