"Colossal Squid" Revives Legends of Sea Monsters

James Owen
for National Geographic News
April 23, 2003

Last month fishermen in the icy Ross Sea encountered a deep-sea giant.

Almost 20 feet (6 meters) long, with spiked tentacles and huge, protruding eyes, it was feeding on Patagonian toothfish caught on longlines set by the fishermen.

The creature was hauled aboard and taken to New Zealand for analysis. This confirmed the encounter as the first live sighting of a colossal squid.

Usually called Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, scientists who examined the Ross Sea specimen coined the term "colossal squid" to distinguish it from giant squid (Architeuthis). They say the species is the biggest and most fearsome squid known to science and could grow to 40 feet (12 meters) in length—longer than a whale.

Thought to be only the second intact example ever recovered, the massive cephalopod was armed with two huge beaks and rotating hooks along its tentacles.

This latest find has revived interest in sea monster legends of old. Could it be such monsters really existed, and still exist today?

Scientists who identified the Ross Sea squid have fueled such speculation.

New Zealand squid expert Steve O'Shea, from Auckland University of Technology, has described the squid as "a true monster." He told the BBC: "Giant squid is no longer the largest squid that's out there. We've got something that's even larger, and not just larger but an order of magnitude meaner."

Auckland University of Technology research associate Kat Bolstad, also talking to the BBC, added: "This animal, armed as it is with the hooks and the beak that it has, not only is colossal in size but is going to be a phenomenal predator and something you are not going to want to meet in the water."

Other scientists dismiss such claims.

Richard Ellis, author and research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, said the colossal squid "is no more a monster than Architeuthis is."

He added: "I wrote The Search for the Giant Squid to try and dispel some of the crazy ideas that this cephalopod is in any way dangerous to humans, and the same holds true for Mesonychoteuthis."

Continued on Next Page >>


SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES

ADVERTISEMENT

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S PHOTO OF THE DAY

NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.