Jana loves researching and sharing facts about the natural world, science, and history.
The giant squid (Architeuthis dux) is a mysterious deep-sea creature. Thought to reach 13 meters (42.6 feet) in length, these cephalopods might be the legendary Kraken feared by ancient mariners. But forget the wild drawings.
Recent footage captured the first squid near the US and a peaceful encounter between Architeuthis and a Japanese diver. Sightings also tell us more about the harsh realities of being a giant in an ocean full of predators and humans. Here are the best glimpses of Architeuthis today.
1. The First Live Footage of a Squid
In 2012, researchers were determined to film a giant squid alive, for the first time, in its natural environment. The team’s hopes were high despite that many before them had failed. But in this case, the Japanese scientists and two TV crews had rigorously researched the best places to find Architeuthis. They could almost smell the squid on their marked charts.
It took 100 dives with a 3-man submersible but at last, the moment came. The crew was searching off Japan’s Ogasawara Islands when a squid detected their bait and shimmered into view. The creature had a decent length of about 3 meters (10 feet long) and the video footage was later released on the Discovery Channel’s “Monster Squid: The Giant Is Real.”
But the first glimpse the public got was a still frame taken from the documentary and circulated by the media. It was mesmerizing. The squid was silver and snuggled between a bundle of tentacles. The most captivating part, however, was the large and thoughtful eye that gazed back at the camera.
2. The Wellington Carcass
In 2018, three brothers drove along the coast of Wellington in New Zealand. They were scouting for a good diving and fishing spot. At one point, they noticed a large white mass next to the track they were on. It was a giant squid, dead but in good condition.
One of the divers posed alongside the squid for a photo. He was a big guy but his feet only reached the start of the animal’s tentacles. When they measured the pale creature, it was 4.2 meters (13.7 feet) long but another passerby claimed their attempt to size the squid reached a bigger 4.5 meters (16.4 feet).
The reason for the squid’s death was not determined, but according to the brothers who found the carcass there were also no signs of illness or violence.
3. The Massive Spanish Specimen
One of the biggest squid carcasses ever washed ashore in Spain. Beachgoers in Cantabria discovered the beast one October morning in 2013. An underwater photographer happened to be there and took images of onlookers snapping their own pictures of the squid. The rubbernecking was understandable. This wasn’t your normal beach wrack. Not only was it the elusive Architeuthis but its size made the creature the proverbial monster squid.
From top to bottom the squid reached 9 meters (30 feet) and when all the squishy parts were piled together on whatever they weighed it with, the monster clocked in at an amazing 180 kilograms (400 pounds).
4. One Was Found Dying Near Florida
In 2011, three men left Port Salerno and headed out 19 kilometres (12 miles) to do some recreational fishing. But instead of catching dinner, they encountered a giant squid. Thankfully, the meeting was not a Kraken moment. The creature was unresponsive except for the tentacles that moved weakly and clung to the fishermen as they hauled it onboard.
The decision to wrestle the 8-meter (25-feet) long, 90-kilogram (200-pound) squid into the boat was the fear that their story would be dismissed as a tall tale (the sort that recreational fishermen are prone to). They even called the authorities.
The Florida Museum of Natural History collected the squid. By then, the animal had died but there was a silver lining. Being extra fresh and undamaged, the remains offered an unprecedented chance to study the rare species.
The museum had its suspicions about what had killed the squid. Most other sea cephalopods, like smaller squids, cuttlefish, and octopuses, perish shortly after they reproduce. Giant squids might also suffer the same fate.
5. The Mystery of the Pulverized Squid
During the 2000s, several giant squids were found dead on Spain’s shores. Although they were found at different times, they had two things in common. They shared the same horrific injuries and washed up after ships deployed sound pulses in the area. Researchers suspected that the pulses, used to scout for oil and gas, harmed the squids but they were unable to prove it.
The animals had bruised muscles, pulp where there should be a mantle, and lesions inside their statocysts (this organ keeps a squid’s balance and position in the water).
In 2011, scientists performed a graphic experiment. They zinged 87 cephalopods with the same low frequencies used at sea. Immediately afterwards, the octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish experienced such damage to their statocysts that they were crippled. The damage was progressive. The longer the animals lived, the worse the injuries became.
Nobody zapped a giant squid to see if the same thing happened to them but the wounds were too similar not to suspect that noise pollution can kill Architeuthis. The Spanish carcasses had more damage but this was likely due to the higher frequencies and more sources of sound they encountered in the real world.
6. The VIS (Very Important Squid)
More than a decade ago, the Smithsonian planned a new ocean-themed hall. More than anything, they wanted a giant squid as the crowning piece. As the word spread, Spain responded and donated a female and a smaller male. Both had died recently and were in pristine condition.
The offer was too good to pass up. There was only one problem. Between Spain and the Smithsonian sat the Atlantic ocean. No commercial aeroplane could carry the beasts. The female alone was 10.97 meters (36 feet) long and both drifted in hundreds of gallons of formalin.
With the new hall opening soon, time was running out. Out of desperation, the Smithsonian called the US Navy who agreed to help. Soon enough, members of the Spanish and US Navy, and US Airforce teamed up with scientists from both countries to send the squid to their new home. The project became known as Operation Calamari and the cephalopods were referred to as VIS (Very Important Squid).
After the shipment landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, it was driven to the local Smithsonian Support Center. For weeks, the squids were drained of formalin and treated with other preservatives. When opening night came - be strong now, the name is a mouthful - the National Museum of Natural History’s Ocean Hall was a hit thanks to the display.
7. A Pair of Plastinated Squid
The process of plastination replaces the body’s fluids and fat with silicone. Elephants and even humans have been preserved in this way. In 2004, two giant squid were collected from a beach in New Zealand and given to experts in Germany to plastinate.
The bodies presented a huge challenge. Soft and delicate, the smallest mistake during preservation could ruin everything. The institute that worked on the project had the best plastination experience in the world and even then, it took two years of painstaking work. For interest’s sake, around 1,500 litres (396 gallons) of silicone went into just one of the animals, a specimen that reached 5 meters (16 feet) in length.
The hardest part was to preserve them in life-like poses. Other plastinated species are supported by their skeletons but the boneless cephalopods had to be clamped, pinned, and wired into place with extreme care. Then they had to cure in position for a year. The effort was worth it, though, and the institute produced two breathtaking Architeuthis frozen in mid-swim.
8. A Squid Being Eaten By a Whale
Sperm whales gorge on squid and are big enough to challenge Architeuthis. For decades, whale carcasses hinted at the battles between these two denizens of the sea. Their stomachs held bits of squid and ring-like scars, caused by tentacle suckers, showing where Architeuthis had wrapped itself around a whale’s body.
But nobody had actually seen a squid being hunted or eaten by sperm whales. Then in 2009, a photographer captured the first proof. Marine biologists were delighted. The squid? Not so much. By the time the images were taken, the cephalopod was already kaput. It had been killed by a female sperm whale. One image showed her with the squid clamped between her jaws and a calf gliding next to her. This picture was likely the one that helped researchers to calculate the squid’s size, which was an estimated 9 meters (30 feet) long.
The pair, presumably a mother and baby, swam with four other adults off Japan’s Bonin Islands. As the pictures showed, the group kept diving as one. Their behaviour suggested that the adults were using pieces of the carcass to teach the calf how to catch and eat squid.
9. The First Sighting in the US
Edith Widder played an interesting role in the history of the giant squid. She helped design the camera that filmed the first living Architeuthis (the silver specimen in Japan) and seven years later, her team also found the first one in US waters.
In 2019, a research vessel with Widder onboard used the same video equipment to study light deprivation on deep-sea fish. Although she was there for other reasons, Widder hoped for an encounter with Architeuthis. The chances were dismal at best. The ship’s route followed different locations within US territory where giant squids have never been seen before.
Days before the expedition’s end, the ship arrived 160 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of New Orleans. The crew dangled bait at a depth of 759 meters (2500 feet) and switched on the video recorder. A squid arrived, found the bait wanting, and left. The visitor was only discovered after hours of footage were reviewed. The clip was short but nobody cared. Widder loved the way the squid’s tentacles grew from the darkness like a true sea monster. Then it attacked the lure before abruptly slipping back into the depths.
Calamari Footnote: The historic squid measured 3 to 3.7 meters (10 to 12 feet) long.
10. This Diver Swam With Architeuthis
In 2015, a giant squid meandered into a Tokyo harbour. The animal was flame-red and roughly 3.7 meters (12 feet) long. The first person to notice the unusual visitor was a fisherman. He alerted the others that something huge was swimming beneath the fishing boats.
The news travelled fast and drew the attention of a diver called Akinobu Kimura. He hurried over to the harbour and upon seeing the Architeuthis, he decided to go into the water. The mini-Kraken didn’t mind when Akinobu eyeballed it up close. A video taken from one of the boats captured the moment that the pair swam near the surface together, with the squid moving calmly alongside the diver.
Akinobu eventually shepherded the creature toward the harbour’s gate. After spending several hours with the fishermen, the squid took the hint and returned to the open ocean.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Jana Louise Smit
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 13, 2021:
The giant squid is a fascinating animal. Thank you for creating a very interesting article about the species, Jana.
Sp Greaney from Ireland on May 13, 2021:
It would definitely be an experience to witness one of these in their natural habitat. Still at least we can visit them in museums. It's great to learn more about the things that live in the sea.
BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on May 13, 2021:
I really don't think I want to see one up close but then it is such a fantastic creature ...I might have to take a peek.
Something about them seems a bit scary.
I can't imagine the whale attacking the Squid.
Great videos & information.
Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on May 13, 2021:
Fascinating creatures. It’s amazing what lurks in the depths of the oceans. Can’t say I would want to swim with one but it would be incredible to see one from a boat.
Lorna Lamon on May 13, 2021:
They are such incredible creatures that look as if they are from another world. This is such an informative and interesting article Jana complete with beautiful footage. I imagine them to be quite shy regardless of their size. Thank you for sharing such an enjoyable read.
Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on May 13, 2021:
Hi Peggy! Thanks so much. This is my first hub with videos but I think it's best for an article dealing with such visually delightful creatures. :)
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 13, 2021:
I never realized that squids could get that large! Thanks for assembling this informative article about giant squids, including the videos.