The colossal squid is the largest invertebrate in the world, measuring up to 46 feet long (14 metres). Despite its vast size and rather impressive appearance, all but a few specimens still elude all those searching for them.
Ancient legends spoke of the kraken as a gigantic monster, a terror which dragged ships to the ocean floor. Today, it is widely accepted that the kraken of mythology actually referred to the giant squid. This huge cephalopod, with its sharp-toothed tentacles and sheer size, is certainly impressive. However, there is another squid, even bigger and far more mysterious. This elusive titan is the colossal squid. While the giant squid manages to live up to its own name, it is, at largest, about 3 feet shorter than its colossal cousin. What’s more, the giant squid’s toothy tentacles are somewhat outdone by the colossal’s, which feature sharp, swivelling hooks. What makes the colossal squid such a valuable specimen is how few anyone has managed to get their hands on.
When did we learn about them?
The colossal squid was completely unknown until 1925. Even then, experts could only identify the new species from two tentacles found inside a sperm whale’s stomach. 31 years later, two separate sperm whale stomachs produced yet more pieces of the species. It wasn’t until 1970 that reports of a sighting of a living specimen came about. Over a decade later, in 1981, the first instance of a living colossal squid being caught took place. Biologists have managed to dissect a few specimens since then, most recently in 2014. The team at New Zealand Museum Te Papa Tongarewa also live-streamed this dissection on Youtube at the time.
Where can we find them?
The colossal squid occupies a huge portion of the world’s southernmost oceans, most notably around Antartica. The large range of ocean they occupy, as well as the great depths which they can dive to, makes them very hard to follow if you’re human. Sperm whales regularly carry scars from these squids hooked limbs and colossal squid is thought to make up over 75% of sperms whales’ diets. This would certainly explain why the majority of early findings of colossal squid limbs came from sperm whale stomachs.
This fascinating creature is something truly precious. It is literally a creature right out of mythological tales and heroic odysseys. The more we can learn about the colossal squid, the more we can learn about something which, for centuries, seemed too fantastic to be believed. There’s something a little magical about that.