Top 10 Startling Giant Squid Facts
By: Jason Robey
After decades of searching for the giant squid, scientists have finally found and filmed the legendary creature in its native habitat. Their journey and discovery will be featured Sunday, January 27, at 8/7c in Monster Squid: The Giant Is Real, the two-hour season finale of the Curiosity series.
We recently sat down with Leslie Schwerin, director/producer of Monster Squid: The Giant Is Real for Discovery Channel, to talk about the expedition, the incredible discovery and all things giant squid. Here are the top 10 things we learned about Architeuthis.
#10. We still know very little about the giant squid, including how it hunts.
“There’s a difference of opinion about how they catch their prey,” Leslie Schwerin told us. “Dr. Tsunemi Kubodera, as I understand it, believes that giant squid catch their prey with their tentacles. So they’re going along and they see something yummy, and their tentacles go out and grab it and bring it in. Dr. Steve O’Shea believes the giant squid’s going along and its tentacles are hanging down at 45 degrees. It’ll catch its prey, and then the body will go to it instead of bringing it in.”
VIDEO: The Giant Squid Discoverers
#9. Humans have been aware of the giant squid for centuries.
Although no one has ever seen a giant squid alive in its natural habitat until now, humans have been clued into its existence for centuries, perhaps even longer. Giant squid carcasses will occasionally wash ashore, and there have been sightings of giant squid at the ocean’s surface. The ancient Greeks may have first described the creature in the fourth century B.C. In the first century B.C., Pliny the Elder wrote of an enormous squid in his Natural History. The animal he described had 30-foot-long arms, weighed 700 pounds and had a head “as big as a cask.”
#8. There’s an even larger squid than the giant squid.
The colossal squid, which still has not been seen alive in its natural habitat, is thought to be even larger than the giant squid (although its tentacles are shorter). The largest known colossal squid was hauled to the surface by fishermen off New Zealand in 2007. It weighed around 1,000 pounds.
#7. The giant squid has a sharp beak.
“Giant squid have a big old beak that is supposedly really sharp,” said Leslie Schwerin. Shaped like a parrot’s beak, the giant squid’s beak is incredibly hard and resistant to fractures and bending. It likely uses its beak to dismember and perhaps paraylze its prey, although no one has ever seen a giant squid feeding.
#6. Giant squid battle sperm whales.
“It’s pretty clear that sperm whales eat giant squid, and giant squid don’t go down without a fight,” said Leslie Schwerin. “Scientists, and just anyone walking on the beach seeing a beached sperm whale, will often see these sucker marks and bite marks from a giant squid. If they open up the stomach of a sperm whale, they’ll often see remains of a giant squid – especially the beaks, because the beaks don’t get broken down. Scientists speculate that the battles giant squid and sperm whales engage in are pretty vicious.”
#5. Giant squid regenerate their tentacles.
“The giant squid that we found didn’t have its tentacles,” said Leslie Schwerin. “We don’t know why exactly. It could be that it lost them in a fight with a sperm whale, or they could’ve been hooked on a fisherman’s line, and that severed their tentacles. But the tentacles regenerate.”
Not all squid regenerate their tentacles, but certain deep sea squid like Architeuthis can sacrifice them as a defense mechanism, allowing them to quickly escape to safety.
#4. The giant squid is as long as a whale.
“What’s fascinating about the giant squid is its size,” Leslie Schwerin told us. “It’s just really big. They can get up to maybe 50 or 60 feet long,” which rivals the length of most large whales (other than fin and blue whales). Tentacles make up the lion’s share of their length. Tentacles aside, the giant squid’s body is the length of a large, adult great white shark.
#3. The giant squid’s eye is as big as your head.
“Its eyes are supposedly the largest in the animal kingdom,” said Leslie Schwerin. “As big as a basketball perhaps. I mean bigger than my head, which is amazing to think about. And that’s so they can see in the dark. We can’t see down 2,000 feet — it’s all dark to us — but they see things. They see light trickling through, and that’s because their eyes are so big.”
“It’s really hard to find a giant squid in its natural habitat,” said Leslie Schwerin. “They’re really deep. 2,000 to 3,000 feet down. That’s not a hospitable environment for us, so we have to go down in submersibles, which are loud and have lights and scare them away.
“I imagine that it’s probably really hard to find a giant squid because we don’t know how to behave or survive in their environment, so we need all this equipment that’s loud, bright and it all scares them away. I think they’re shy creatures. They’re solitary creatures, so they don’t swim in schools. Even though there may be millions of them, they’re spread out throughout the seas, and it is like a needle in a haystack.”
#1. The giant squid is actually a gentle giant.
“It’s huge. It’s weird-looking. We know that,” said Leslie Schwerin. “And I think people are fascinated with ‘monsters.’ It does fit the description, in a way, of a monster even if it’s a gentle monster. But our imaginations take off and we think it’s this crazy monster of the sea that’ll take down ships and sailors. There were certainly stories about it doing that in the past. It really does excite people, and people love their monsters — especially ones they haven’t seen.”