March 2007

This photo doesn’t look like much but when it was published in 2005 it was very big news! This is the giant squid, Architeuthis dux (ark-ee-TOOTH-iss dooks) and until this photograph was taken no one had ever seen a live, healthy giant squid in its natural habitat.

For a long time the giant squid was considered a mythological monster, like the sea serpent or Bigfoot. Then when whaling became a big industry in the nineteenth century, whalers reported that the bellies of sperm whales were filled with the beaks, tentacles and arms of giant squids. Many sperm whales had circular scars on their heads where giant squid had latched on with their suckers. In the 1870s, dead giant squid started washing up on the beaches of Newfoundland, Norway and Ireland, and for the first time people started taking measurements, notes and photographs. Scientists began to study the giant squid in earnest. Some of the scientists were cryptozoologistsscientists who study unknown animals.

Still, no one ever saw a live Architeuthis that wasn’t floating at the surface and dying. Scientists wondered what the squid ate, how it swam, where it lived. The largest dead specimen was nearly 60 feet long. Did it grow larger than this? How long did it live? How did it reproduce? How did it hunt? Did it lie lazily in the water, waiting for something tasty to tickle its tentacles? Or did it actively hunt? Scientists and photographers spent millions of dollars trying to capture a photo of a giant squid in its natural habitat but they had no luck.

Two Japanese scientists decided to follow the whales. They figured that since sperm whales feed on squid the whales would lead them to the animals. The scientists baited some. They attached a camera to the line and waited. Soon their efforts were rewarded. A giant squid went after the bait! The scientists took nearly 500 photos and now we know a few more things about Architeuthis dux. For one thing, it is not lazy. It is a powerful and aggressive hunter. It can swim forward and backward at high speed. It can change its color instantly. Its suction cups keep on working even after the tentacle is cut off!

I like animals of all kinds but I am especially fond of Architeuthis. It is a REAL monster that lives in our oceans. It is mysterious, scary, and wonderful. I read all about it in the book Giant Squid: The Biology and Mythology of the World’s Most Elusive Sea Creature by Richard Ellis. Then I did a Google search and found this photo. If I were a kid, I’d probably want to grow up to be a teuthologist or maybe a cryptozoologist.

If you have a favorite mysterious or curious animal I would like to hear about it. Send me an e-mail. In the meantime, read about something new, and DON’T go swimming with sperm whales!

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