160-Foot Giant Squid Hoax: How Big Do They Really Get?

The largest giant squid recorded by scientists measured 43 feet (12 meters) long, according to Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Faked photo of a giant squid supposedly found In California.

An image of a monster 160-foot-long (49-meter-long) giant squid made the social media rounds yesterday, but fear not—it's a hoax.

The photo of the enormous deep-sea denizen after it washed on to a beach in Santa Monica, California, accompanied a satirical article on the website The Lightly Braised Turnip this week.

À la Godzilla, the article claims the squid was a victim of radiation—supposedly from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. (See "True Facts About Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster.")

People began to share the photo of the supposed cephalopod on Facebook and Twitter, and thus the fake giant came to life.

Staff at the rumor-research website snopes.com did a drive-by of the beach in Santa Monica and reported no signs of the giant squid. "Nor did any of the many local news outlets cover any such topic," they write.

David Emery writes on About.com that the giant squid in the photograph is actually a 30-foot-long (9-meter-long) giant squid that washed ashore in Spain in October 2013.

The fake photo combined a blown-up image of that squid and a picture of people standing on a beach.

"From a pure photographic standpoint, what stands out to me as a red flag is the squid's shadow on the left—actually all of its shadows," said Sherry Brukbacher, news photo editor at National Geographic. "This makes me question the image immediately."

"It's more likely the animal's body would be flush with the ground and not sticking up like that, unless it was hardened and stiff," she said. "Also, all the edges of the squid are uniformly smooth—unnaturally so."

Giant squid are large enough to battle sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)—sometimes the squid win, and sometimes they end up in the belly of a beast. (See "Rare Photos: Giant Squid Eaten by Sperm Whale.")

Charles Paxton, a researcher at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who studies how long giant squid can grow, notes that a scientific paper published in 1887 recorded a giant squid 55 feet (16.8 meters) long found in New Zealand.

Although Paxton thinks this is a fairly credible account, "the tentacles are stretchy so there can be error," he wrote in an email.

Fifty-five feet (16.8 meters) is still nowhere close to the supposed 160-foot (49-meter) length of the giant squid that's taken over the Internet.

And we're not likely to see a 160-foot-long (49-meter-long) squid any time soon, Paxton noted.

"I think if 160-foot squids were around, we would have found 80-, 90-, and 100-foot squids, and we haven't," he said.

Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.