Jun 2016

Giant Squid

By Roya Eshragh

Deep, deep beneath the sea lives a mythical creature foretold by many a tale. A fish dressed like a Monk, described to the Danish King Christian III. A beautiful nymph turned monster living in the Straight of Messina. A deep sea monster that could encapture huge sailing vessels and drag them to the bottom of the ocean, associated with a terrifying title: The Kraken. Well, the truth isn’t quite so sinister or mystical. But these rarely-seen creatures are still quite magical when you get down to it.

Giant squid are the second largest extant mollusk (to colossal squid) on the planet, and they are found all around it. Bodies have washed ashore everywhere from Japan to Newfoundland. They tend to prefer continental and island slopes and most commonly wash ashore in temperate waters. They are rarely found in the tropics or polar regions.

Like most cephalopods, giant squid have a mantle encompassing their visceral organs, with fins at the posterior, 8 arms, and 2 feeding tentacles. All of these are just much, much larger in comparison. In fact, the tentacles are the largest of any cephalopod. The arms and tentacles each have two rows of suckers which are individually surrounded by chitonous teeth that leave quite a literal impression on their enemies. Their foot-long eyes are potentially also the largest in the animal kingdom, thought to be larger than the colossal squids’.

giant-squid-eye

The mouth, complete with hard, prey shredding beak is located underneath all those arms. The brain is donut-shaped to accommodate its esophagus that runs through it toward the digestive glands.

All together, the squids can reach up to 13m and 275kg. Males reach sexual maturity at a smaller size than females, which is helpful because the female lays an approximately 5kg of eggs so size definitely counts. Like almost all cephalopods, both males and females only mate once in their estimated 5-year lifespan and die before the eggs hatch. So, these giants have to become giant quite quickly before their time in the ocean is complete.

Even with their enormous size, giant squids live at the depths of an much more enormous ocean, making them extremely rare to come across. It’s thought that they live anywhere from 300 to 1000m deep. Almost all that is known about these enigmatic beauties was discovered from carcasses that wash up on shore or turn up in fishing nets. Very, very few people have ever seen one alive.

What we do know is that they partake in deep sea battles with sperm whales. Beaks and other giant squid body parts have been found in the stomachs of these whales, which hold the record for longest and deepest divers of any mammal. Scars from the suckers of giant squid have also been found on their skin, proof of some epic battle no one has ever witnessed. The only other known predator of giant squid…are giant squid. The bodies of deep sea fish, other squid, and of course giant squid have been found in the digestive systems of dead giant squid. Some deep sea sharks and pilot whales may prey on juveniles additionally.

So, giant sea monsters do really exist. Except they’re actually really cool, and they don’t pose a threat to us surface-dwelling beings. It does make you wonder what else is down in that deep, vast, unknown ocean, though.

This article ‘Giant Squid’ was written by Roya

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Roya Eshragh

Even as a little girl, I was obsessed with the oceans and wanted to become a marine biologist. So, I got into diving in 2011 as an aide for my Master’s research on cephalopod (squid, cuttlefish, octopus, etc) parasites. I completed my PADI Open Water course and continued with the CAUS Scientific Diver course in the cold cold waters around Vancouver BC. When time allowed, I would help with the Howe Sound Research Group of the Vancouver Aquarium monitoring the Sound. I’m sorry to say, but even after all that, I still haven’t quite come to love dry suit diving.

Once I moved to Madagascar as the Science Officer of a marine conservation NGO, I realized just how lovely diving in the tropics could be. There, I completed my DiveMaster and became addicted to daily diving. I had to find a way to continue! So I did my IDC in Bunaken, Indonesia, completing my MSDT course and learning the tricks of the trade on a few inaugural students.

Currently, I am a dive manager/reef ecologist in Sri Lanka and starting up a conservation and education program with my dive shop. Combining my love of the oceans with my love of science, I am thrilled to have found a way to bridge the two and teach others about this incredible ecosystem we still don’t know nearly enough about. There’s still lots more for me to learn, both about diving and about the marine world, and that is the beauty of it all!

Qualifications:
PADI Specialty Instructor
CAUS Scientific Diver 1
Master of Science - Zoology

Dream Dive Locations:
Komodo, Indonesia
Silfra, Iceland
Maldives
Wreck Diving, Lake Michigan

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