Giant Squid - All You Need To Know
The Giant Squid, a once mythical sea monster. But now the Giant Squid is a creature that is very much real, and stalks our deepest oceans. Along with the colossal squid, they make up the biggest of the cephalopods, and continue to fascinate marine experts. To find out the facts about the Giant Squid, we have come to the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth.
Step 1: Size
The biggest specimen ever claimed was washed up in North America around 1860, and was said to be 18 metres in length. They certainly often grow to between 12-15 metres, and can weigh up to 200 kilos if not more.
The body of a giant squid is made up of the mantle which holds all the normal organs along with the gills. Attached to this is the head which contains the mouth, beak, and eyes which can measure 20cms across. From the front of the body comes 8 arms that are armoured with suckers, along with two much longer tentacles that have large clubs at the ends.
Step 2: Food
The animal will use the tentacles to hunt. When spotting the movement of another creature with their huge eyes, they will grab it with the tentacles which then passes the prey to the arms, and on into the mouth where it is shredded by the beak for swallowing. The remains of other giant squid have occasionaly been found in their stomachs, suggesting that they may well be cannibalistic.
Step 3: Habitat
Living between 300 and 1000 metres down the water in the darkness, the squid needs to ensure it stays at the right level. It does this by having ammonia in it's tissue which is lighter than water, giving it the buoyancy it needs. They move through the water with slow waves of movement through the fins, and when they want to move quickly they can push water through their funnel to jet propel them away from danger or towards food.
Step 4: Mating
The giant squid is thought to have quite a short life of about 3 years, breeding once in that time and then dying. To breed the male must find a suitable mate which he then approaches. His 1 metre penis comes out of his body and starts to stab at the females tentacles leaving behind string like tubes of sperm which burrow into the females arms, remaining there until the female is ready to produce her eggs. The males must be brave to do this as the females are usually a third bigger, and may well rip off some of the males arms with her sharp beak.
Step 5: Fighting
Squid are known to fight with sperm whales, but this is probably only ever in self defense. Their is one story of a giant squid attacking a young right whale, who certainly wouldn't have been feeding on the squid. Another tells of one attacking a small sperm whale, where both died in the fight. Unfortunately though, these stories are unfounded.
Step 6: Myths
The great myths from history of giant octopuses attacking boats and people probably came from the giant squid. A recent case saw a squid attack a racing yacht, though perhaps it was dying at the surface and the yacht simply ran into it.
The story behind the first piece of giant squid that was taken to a scientific laboratory is an interesting one. Supposedly two fishermen and a young boy went fishing in a small boat off Canada's Atlantic Coast. A huge tentacle came up and grabbed one of the fishermen, at which point the young boy hacked off the 19ft tentacle with an axe. The tentacle is now kept at Harvard University Museum, but there is really no proof behind the story.
Step 7: Tracking
The giant squid is so hard to study simply because it is so hard to find. Little was known about their behaviour in the depths until recent years when Japanese scientists lowered a baited hook with a camera to 900 metres in the oceans south of Japan. A giant squid took the bait and struggled whilst the camera snapped away. It eventually escaped leaving a tentacle behind. Through this we discovered that the squid were much more aggressive and vigorous than expected.
Every time we find out a little more about the giant squid, we find that we know even less. They are marvelous creatures in a world that we can never fully understand, and that we must strive to find out more about.