Mysterious Island: Giant squid


I remember the first time I saw one of them.

I remember the first time I saw one of them.

One evening years ago, I was sitting on one of those green park benches on the Descanso Bay side of the Casino, partaking of a fine maduro cigar from the Dominican Republic; a robusto that went by the name H. Upmann.

I was regarding the rapidly enveloping twilight of day’s end and enjoying the visual crescendo of the “Aurora Angelenas,” or the lights of L.A., in the distance.

Suddenly, a sport fishing boat came around Casino Point and motored more or less in front of me.

“Hey, stop,” yelled a voice from on deck.  “Look at that!  Check it out!”

The twin diesels clunked into neutral, then into slow reverse as the yacht edged back a few yards.

The deckhand grabbed a gaff hook and, extending it outwards from the vessel’s port quarter, brought aboard an enormous—and quite dead—giant squid.  The thing must have been 5 feet in length (not counting its extensive array of tentacles.  From my park bench, I could clearly see the beast’s eyes were nearly as large as those of a man.

“Now that,” I said to myself as I puffed great clouds of tropical nicotine into the air, “is a SQUID.”

You’ve no doubt noticed that our friends Dosidicus Gigas, or Humboldt squid, have been back in the news of late after making one of their multi-year appearances in Southern California waters.

They’ve been appearing all over coastal newspapers and L.A. television news broadcasts over the past couple of weeks.  

Dozens, even hundreds and thousands of them have been swarming in the near-coastal waters in the last few weeks for reasons that aren’t entirely understood by scientists.

Some of the sport fishing boats coming out of places like Dana Point are reporting catching as many as 1,800 of these beasts in a single outing. It is the return of these squid, as well as their smaller more traditional squid brethren, that are partly responsible for all the sea life activity you’ve seen in Avalon Bay over the last few days—bait boils, the hundreds of swirling seagulls, the lazy seals floating on their backs basking in the afternoon sun (and barking loudly into the night, well past the time that it is civil to do so).

Generally speaking, these “jumbo squid” can weigh anywhere from about 5 pounds up to nearly 30 pounds.  But even these fellows are no match for their large and legendary cousins that dwell deep within the eternal gloom.

Enter the “Colossal Squid,” the only known member of the genus Mesonychoteuthis; the stuff of which nightmares are made.

This creature, of which only a handful of specimens (or parts thereof) have ever been discovered, can supposedly reach lengths of more than 40 feet.

The appearance of monsters such as this were originally limited only to fiction.  In Junes Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” we are treated to an attack upon the Nautilus by just such a giant squid.  But Verne wrote this tale in 1870, more than 50 years before scientists got the first inkling (pun intended) that such creatures existed.  For it was in 1925 that the first proof was found of the existence of squid of this size in the form of a pair of tentacles found in the stomach of a sperm whale.  This discovery lead to speculation about great struggles between the behemoths of the deep and further fueled giant squid lore.

That speculation had to continue for another half century until 1981 when a Russian trawler off the coast of Antarctica caught a large squid with a body length of about 13 feet.  This specimen turned out to be an immature female, meaning the adults could theoretically be much larger. To date, the largest specimen ever discovered was brought aboard a New Zealand fishing boat also off the coast of Antarctica, which seems to be their favorite stomping grounds.

Originally thought to measure more than 30 feet in length, after contracting “post-mortem” it was discovered that this specimen only measured about 14 feet in length.

But Jules Verne fans such as myself (remember this column is named after his classic “L’Ile Mysterieuse” or “The Mysterious Island”) can take heart.  Judging by the size of some of the beaks of these colossal squid found in the stomachs of sperm whales—beaks relative to the size of the beak of this specimen found in New Zealand—scientists postulate that fully grown adults are most likely “much larger.”

Jim Watson is the author of “Mysterious Island: Catalina,” available on Amazon, Kindle and in stores all over Avalon.


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