How to Capture a Giant Squid

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

Giant squid are carnivorous mollusks the size of a school bus with a beak-like mouth that can cut through steel cable. You think they'd be hard to miss. And yet, largely because the squid tend toward the deepest water, they're so seldom seen that most people thought they were a myth---right up until a French ship brought back a chunk of one in the 1860s.

But while bringing home the giant squidy bacon isn't particularly simple, it's also not impossible. In this excerpt from Be Amazing, you'll find that there's more than one way to skin a sea monster.

Method 1: Forget the Net
You might have more luck "capturing" a squid on film. In September 2004, Japanese researchers took the first photos of a live giant squid in its natural habitat. The team sent cameras mounted to barbed bait hooks (the bait: smaller squids) nearly 3,000 feet below the Pacific Ocean. Before long, a 26-foot squid attempted to eat his scrawnier brethren and hooked himself on the line, allowing researchers to take some 500 photos before the squid escaped.

Method 2: Offer Squid a Tasty Treat
If your preferred squid looks hungry, try luring it with a delicious oil tanker. During the course of the 1930s, the Norwegian tanker Brunswick was attacked not once, not twice, but three times by giant squid. Metal boats don't sound especially appetizing, but scientists think squid mistake the large, gray objects for whales---a decidedly yummy entree giant squid have been known to dine upon. Unfortunately, it's more difficult to get a good grip on the steel hull of a tanker, than on the pliable hide of a whale. Whenever a squid tried to put the Brunswick in a choke hold, its tentacles would slip, and the squid would end up making a fatal slide into the ship's propellers.

Method 3: Just Go Have a Beer and Wait for the Squid to Come to You
Time-tested and infinitely more relaxing, this classic method is also responsible for catching one of the largest squid ever measured. In November, 1878, two Canadian fishermen from the delightfully named town of Timble Tickle, New Brunswick, found a giant squid washed ashore. Although technically on the lookout for smaller aquatic creatures, the fishermen gladly accepted the bounty the sea had given them, hauling the giant beast further onto land and tying it up to a tree. After it was dead (and, presumably, less feisty), the fishermen broke out the tape measure. From the tip of the its tail to the end of its tentacles, the squid was more than 50 feet long.

Please direct praise and/or fawning donations to illustrator Michael Rogalski.


  1. Fascinating animals. And equaly fascinating is their arch enemy, the sperm whale.
    Did you know that 1/3s of the sperm whale’s body consists of a, presumably sensory organ of which we still have no clue as to how it functions?!

  2. Thimble Tickle is actually in Newfoundland, and not New Brunswick – but otherwise, the article was a fun read.

  3. Hey, you know what BB? It’d be really nice to have a guest blogger once in a while who wasn’t bent on endless self-promotion. Maybe we shouldn’t have been so quick to run Charles Platt out of town on a rail… at least he wasn’t trying to make a buck off the gig.

    1. scissorfighter,

      What exactly do you find self-promoting about this post? She’s not selling calamari. The links in the top blurb are to her website (some free content, some stuff for sale), her twitter nest (free content) and Mental Floss (mega-shitloads of free content whether or not you subscribe to the magazine.) Is there some alternative internet that doesn’t have any ads, every thing is subscription free and authors don’t tell you about their latest projects? Because if there is, it’s news to me.

      And that’s a low blow about Charles Platt. You know perfectly well that he’s set for life after taking that high-paying WalMart job.

  4. I have tried the go have a beer strategy. Very unsuccessful in Minnesota. All I am catching these days is tree pollen.

  5. While ScissorFighter puts it rather rudely, i kinda have to agree with his main point. Then again, if bloggers can’t self promote on their blogs where the hell are they supposed to do it?

    That being said, I think Maggie Koerth-Baker is the most enjoyable guest blogger i have seen here in a while. I especially love the illustration for this post.

    So, fuck it. Go ahead and promote yourself or whatever else you want to promote, just keep doing what you’re doing.


    I’d hardly say she’s “bent on self-promotion”, though it might be nice to see some more of her more general musings.

    That said, I’ve found her the best guest blogger in ages, so I couldn’t give a monkey’s whether she’s using / promoting her book or not.

    What exactly is wrong with self-promotion if it comes with fun and informative writing?

  7. They might catch more squids if they tie the rope on the whale’s tail, with its head hanging downward.

  8. One downcheck for the giant squid — it’s inedible, as are many deepwater cephalopods, because it has ammonia in its flesh.

  9. “From the tip of the its tail to the end of its tentacles,”

    Squid do not have tails.
    What you refer to is called a ‘head’.

  10. Like I’m supposed to believe that in 1878 two men wrestled an ailing fifty-foot squid up a beach and tied him to a tree? Son of a bitch must have weighed a ton. Tell me another one. And don’t even think of a team of horses; I’d rather try to get horses to drag a grizzly bear.

  11. If you’re only likely to read one giant sqid oriented book this Spring, I’d recommend “The Search for the Giant Sqid”, by Richard Ellis. He goes through known science, history, legit sightings, illegit sightings and pop culture elements. Good beach read.

  12. Can it be considered “blogging”, though, if all you’re doing is pulling from pre-existing writings? Especially ones that are published and available elsewhere?

    While I agree that Maggie’s posts are cleverly written and enjoyable…it seems that her tenure at bb is devoted to plugging her book.

  13. It does get annoying after a while. It seems like every other post is about the one book she wrote. Book promotions aren’t bad and a couple of posts highlighting the various topics can’t hurt either, but I think I’ve reached the point where it’s enough.

    Yeah yeah, then don’t read the posts. It’s just a pity, for example compared to the next-to-last guest, Dan Gillmor.

  14. Maggie Koerth-Baker is the only BB guest blogger to sell me a book solely on the basis of her posts. They have so delighted me that if I had the money I would offer to underwrite a blog where she could throw in anything and everthing that interests her. She could call it Be Amazed.

  15. Man, you try to let people know about your book and suddenly you’re a huge jerk.

    What’s so bad about self-promotion? Is it all right if it’s someone-else-promotion, but not if you’re doing it yourself?

    Woman just wants to make a living.

  16. PS: Don’t know if you guys have noticed, but BB is basically one big promotion-fest. From the throbbing bristle post, with accompanied banner ad at the top of the page, to Cory mentioning his own books all the time, to the post–which came literally right before this one–about the new Diesel Sweeties book.

    It’s all promotion. Just so happens that some of it comes from the creator, some of it doesn’t.

  17. It would seem to me that complaints about the nature of any post should go in the moderation thread, instead of diverting this one further.

    Midknyte@~18: You kinda already posted my idea, but I was going to say: Dress like a female squid a la Bugs Bunny, just by adding lipstick / big bow on “head” and bat eyelashes.

  18. #15, buddy66; “Like I’m supposed to believe that in 1878 two men wrestled an ailing fifty-foot squid up a beach and tied him to a tree?”

    A very quick search for Timble Tickle indicates that the story is basically correct, but that your skepticism is warranted.

    Apparently they found it at high tide, and only had to move it a small way to tie it to a tree. Then they just waited for the tide to go out.

  19. You missed method 4.

    Catch a squid when they’re young and nearer the surface. I saw a documentary a few years ago where researchers were searching for young architeuthis, still in the “inches long” and thus presumably more manageable category. It was apparently very hit or miss, as they found very few of the cute little guys. And apparently keeping them alive was a bit of a bother too, as none of their catch survived. It was an intriguing approach to the problem though.

  20. #13 Bender if you have any difficulty in relocating to Timble Tickle you could drop by Dildo on your way to Come by Chance which is a cough and a spit from Joe Batt’s Arm

  21. aye, by way o’ Jerry’s Nose and then on Blow-me-Down with a stop at Lushes Bight and right on through Run-by-Guess, an not stoppin’ at Calves Nose, Roight?

  22. They aren’t really the size of a “bus.” The body length is, max, a bit more than 2 meters, and, while that is a lot, I could fit dozens inside a bus because they are skinny. The big lengths are all due to legs. They could overpower a young whale, but the scars on adults are from them eating squids, not the other way round.
    You can see an adult female (and male) at the Smithsonian.

  23. Fascinating animals. And equaly fascinating is their arch enemy, the dumber than a rock human species a.k.a. the pollutor of the oceans and overfisher of its creatures.

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