Giant squids measuring in excess of 60 feet and weighing a whopping 1,275 pounds are the most mysterious and the least known gigantic critter on Earth.
Cephalopods — from the Greek “head-footed” — have at least eight arms, and this includes all octopuses; cuttlefishes and squids have two additional tentacles that they can shoot out to capture prey. Chambered nautilus, the most primitive of all living Cephalopods, have as many as 90 arms.
There are 40 genera of squids with somewhere between 600 and 700 species. All are equipped with claws, hooks, suckers, giant axons and complex lidless eyes similar to “higher” vertebrates (spineless animals), sharp beaks like parrots and some have lights all over them.
All squids have suckers on their arms and tentacles, some possess retractable claws and most are outfitted with fearsome toothed rings.
Squids catch their prey with their tentacles. They pull their victim toward the center of their arms where a powerful parrot-like beak dices them into small pieces and/or grinds them down with radular teeth before swallowing.
The head of the squid is separated from the body by a neck and it’s usually smaller in diameter than the body. The head contains a large brain with two huge eyes. Giant squid eyes are about the size of a dinner plate — the largest of any living animal on the planet. They are able to pick out the faintest light or movement in the blackness of the ocean’s vast depths of greater than 5,000 feet.
Also located on the side of the squid’s head, near the neck, are the olfactory or smell glands.
At the posterior end of the head is the squid’s body, or mantle, followed by a tail. At its opposite end is a circle of arms and usually a pair of tentacles.
Squids propel themselves — in either direction — by shooting water from the funnel, a short, hose-like organ that protrudes from the mantle below the head.
Compared to fish, squids are drag racers of the sea. In order to achieve lightning-like bursts of speed, squids have two hearts and blood that uses copper-containing pigments — hemocyanin — rather than hemoglobin used by vertebrates.
Squids have large complex brains and nervous systems. This enables them fantastic control over their color and patterns on their skin. Colors like red, orange, yellow, brown and black are used for defense and it is believed to be used as a “language” that affects their social organization.
Squids have the ability to float motionlessly at any depth waiting unsuspectingly for prey. They eat plankton, crustaceans, fish and other squids. They feed both during the day and night, relying upon their keen eye sight and sense of touch to capture victims.
All squids are believed to have short life cycles and death immediately follows breeding. Very little is known about giant squids, they have only been filmed once — in late December of 2006.
Sperm whales have the largest brains of any animals that have ever lived on Earth. They are the only known enemy of giant squids. They relentlessly search for giant squids in the darkness of the icy oceans more than one mile beneath the surface.
Sperm whales hunt using radar or echolocation. Each whale needs between 2,200 and 4,200 pounds of squid a day. Some scientists believe that once sperm whales locate giant squids they kill them by producing a sonic boom. This hypothesis is corroborated when examining the stomach contents of sperm whales; they contain hundreds of pounds of uninjured giant squids.
There are other reports, however, that clearly show the loathsome scars from the ringed toothed suckers of the giant squids on the snouts of sperm whales. This unimaginable raging battle is a fight amongst the two largest predators and prey on the globe.
The only part of the giant squid that remains undigested inside the sperm whale is the beak. One sperm whale that was examined contained 28,000 giant squid beaks!
Almost 700 species of squid are thought to make up the greatest aggregate of pure animal matter on the planet — twice that of any other living creatures put together.
Overfishing and climate change are bringing these beasts more frequently into contact with humans. Giant Humboldt squids were seen this summer along San Diego beaches and very recently on the beaches of Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” called giant squids (or krakens) sea monsters. For at least a half a billion years giant squids have been evolving in the sea; these timeless and remarkable critters are indeed worthy of our wonder.
Dr. Reese Halter is a public speaker and conservation biologist. His most recent book is “The Incomparable Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination,” Rocky Mountain Books. Contact him through www.DrReese.com.