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Architeuthis. Photo: Discovery Channel

The Kraken Wakes: What Architeuthis is Trying to Tell Us

By Mark Dery

Captured live on video in its deep-sea element, for the first time, the Kraken of tall tales and sea shanties—Architeuthis, the giant squid—is coming into sharp focus, a flesh-and-blood reality. But why now?

Here be monsters: Neil Landman and I are crowded, along with some graduate students, into a storage room at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, where Landman is curator-in-charge of fossil invertebrates. We’re gathered for an audience with Architeuthis, the giant squid. Before us, pickling quietly in a big, stainless-steel tank, is the stuff of sailors’ nightmares, the serpent-armed leviathan that drags hapless seafarers to their doom.

As Landman gaffs a tentacle and hoists it for me to touch, I half-expect the limp, dripping thing to lash out and grab me. Myth has a long half-life.

Bleached white by its preservative bath, the tentacle feels hard yet rubbery to the touch, like an overinflated bicycle tire—a bicycle tire studded with suckers the size of quarters, on stalks. Running my thumb around the inside of one, I feel the sawtoothed ring of chitin that gives the creature its fearsome grip. In life, its suckers leave proof of the fabled beast’s existence: ring-shaped scars on the hide of its archnemesis, the Sperm whale. A photo in a 1917 Smithsonian publication bears the poetic caption, “a piece of Sperm whale skin relating a battle with a giant squid, in sucker scar script.”1

Time and again, marauding cephalopods rise out of the fathomless depths of our collective unconscious, from the 12-armed Scylla in Homer’s Odyssey, plucking men from passing ships like canapés off a waiter’s tray, to Pliny’s foul-smelling “polyp,” whose stupefyingly bad breath “tormented the dogs,”2 to the beached “devil-fish” described in 1879 by the biologist Thomas Kirk. Quoting from an awestruck New Zealander who happened on the carcass, Kirk conjured a “repulsive-looking brute” with tentacles “as thick as a man’s leg,” “horrid goggle eyes,” and “a powerful beak,” reputed by the Maori natives to grab men and rip their insides out.3 (Duly chastened, the New Zealander vowed, “No more sea-bathing for me!”)

Yet, despite their antiquity (and ubiquity), accounts of many-armed abominations molesting humans are no more than old mariner’s tales, scientists insist. Consider the 1873 account, recounted by Richard Ellis in his book The Search for the Giant Squid, of a confrontation between Architeuthis and a small fishing boat in a Newfoundland cove. Legend has it that a quick-thinking fisherman in Conception Bay thwarted a giant-squid attack by lopping off one of the monster’s tentacles with an axe. There’s no denying that something happened: the animal’s severed limb provided incontrovertible evidence, in the words of an excited local, “of the hitherto mystical devilfish…whose existence naturalists have been disputing for centuries.”4 But contemporary teuthologists dismiss the “attack” as the death throes of a moribund animal, pointing out that virtually all giant squid encountered on the ocean’s surface are dead or dying. “There is not a single corroborated story of a [giant] squid attacking a man, a boat, or a submersible,” asserts Ellis.5

Dosidicus Gigas

There are, however, irrefutable instances of jumbo squid behaving aggressively towards humans. In 1990, while diving with a film crew for the PBS series Nature, off the southern coast of Baja California, Alex Kerstitch, a University of Arizona biologist, was mugged by Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas). No giant like Architeuthis, Dosidicus is a mere jumbo, reaching a maximum length of six feet and weighing a hundred pounds at most. But it more than makes up for its comparatively smaller size with a muscle-bound mantle and a hair-trigger, Joe Pesci aggressiveness. Excited by the scent of the bait the crew was using to attract them, several squid grabbed Kerstitch by the legs, without warning, and took him on an elevator ride to hell, yanking him into the pitch-black depths. Others piled on, ripping off the scientist’s dive computer, collection bag, light, and, like any wilding gang, his gold neckchain.6 Then, just as suddenly, the creatures released Kerstitch, who swam back to the boat. Producer Howard Hall recalled,

[T]he squid mugging hadn’t really terrified Alex while it was happening. He was too busy to be afraid. But when he got back on board he began to wonder what if...? What if they held on just a little longer? In moments they might have dragged him down into abyssal depths. What if they ripped out his regulator? And his worst fear, what if that beak (much larger than the largest parrot’s beak) had grabbed his neck and ripped out a two-pound hunk of flesh? As he thought about it, his knees became progressively weaker. He decided he needed some rest.7

Not for nothing do the Mexican fishermen call these creatures diablos rojos .8

Most scientists believe that Dosidicus is far more aggressive than Architeuthis. But even if the giant squid doesn’t earn its mythic status as a shipwrecking, man-eating behemoth, the unadorned truth about Architeuthis is sufficiently unsettling to enhance, rather than dispel, its reputation as the poster beast for sea monsters. It has three hearts, blue blood, and the biggest eyes in the animal kingdom— the size of ”volleyballs,” says Clyde Roper, a Zoologist Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution who is widely considered to be the world’s leading authority on Architeuthis. Giant squid have been reputed to attain lengths of 45 feet.9

Like Kubodera and Landman, Roper believes Architeuthis hunts by hanging motionless in the inky darkness, 600 to 1,000 meters down. When a fish or smaller squid swims by, they conjecture, the animallashes out with its two long tentacles, dragging its prey within reach of its eight shorter arms and, ultimately, the wicked-looking, parrotlike beak in the center of its thicket of limbs. The beak is sharp as a bolt cutter, its upper jaw scissoring neatly into the prognathous lower one. Shearing off chunks of living flesh, the squid uses a rasping, tongue-like organ called a radula, covered with tiny teeth, to push its food down its gullet. “There’s a school of thought that thinks these things are gentle giants,” says Landman, wryly. He’s not buying it. But like almost everything about Architeuthis, the question is open to debate: Steve O’Shea, New Zealand’s preeminent teuthologist, or squid scientist, O’Shea is unequivocally on the gentle-giant side of the battle lines.

As Ellis writes in The Search for the Giant Squid, Architeuthis is “the least-known large animal on earth, the last monster to be conquered.”10 Historically, much of what we’ve known—or thought we’ve known—about the giant squid has been nine parts gothic horror, one part fact, stitched together from fear, fantasy, and educated conjecture based on specimens that washed ashore or floated to the ocean’s surface, dead or dying.

Until recently.

Close encounters with real-life kraken are on the rise: in recent years, giant and even colossal squid have been caught—alive and in their element—in still photos and, on rare occasion, on hooks. “In terms of Architeuthis sightings, historically, all we’ve had are dead animals,” says Steve O’Shea, New Zealand’s preeminent teuthologist, or squid scientist. “Now, we’re seeing live animals being photographed and filmed. The progress that’s been made in securing footage of these animals, and in understanding their life history and biology, over the last few years is phenomenal, compared to where we were several years ago.”

Despite its status as the largest invertebrate on the planet, no one had ever seen, much less photographed, a live giant squid in its habitat until 2004. On September 30, at precisely 9:15 A.M., near Japan’s Ogasawara Islands, a 26-foot-long giant squid attacked a baitline that Dr. Tsunemi Kubodera and his research team had rigged with a strobe and a digital camera, timed to snap an image every 30 seconds.11 Within days, cephalogeeks all over the Web were posting links to astonishing photographs of the animal12 vrooming up out of the deep and grabbing the bait “in much the same way that pythons rapidly envelop their prey within [their] coils...immediately after striking,” as the researchers put it.13

Since then, we’ve witnessed a flurry of megasquid firsts. In December 2006, Kubodera and his team outdid themselves by hooking an Architeuthis near the Japanese island of Chichijima, then videotaping the thrashing 24-foot animal as they dragged it aboard. (Unfortunately, it died from exposure to the warm surface water, not to mention being beached on the deck of the ship.)14 Then, in February 2007, a New Zealand fishing crew topped that: fishing for toothfish in the Antarctic waters south of New Zealand, they hauled up a 39-foot, 990-pound colossal squid—Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, by any other name—alive.15 It didn’t survive, but it was the most mature specimen of the biggest (and, some maintain, baddest) member of the order Teuthidaever recovered, not to mention the largest confirmed specimen of a cephalopod to date.16 (Why baddest? Because Mesonychoteuthis beats Architeuthis in the arms race, hands down: the clublike ends of its tentacles bristle with vicious, swiveling hooks, the better to grab you with.)

Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni. Photo: British Antarctic Survey

Now comes the first video footage of a live Architeuthis in the vasty deep—2,000 feet below the Pacific, 620 miles south of Japan, in an area where Sperm whale hunt the giant squid. In June and July 2012, an expedition jointly funded by The Discovery Channel and Japan’s public-broadcasting organization, NHK, went in search of the vanishingly elusive animal. The scientists heading the team, Kubodera, O’Shea, and the marine biologist Edie Widder, conducted 55 dives in two submersibles. Using Widder’s ingenious “e-jellyfish” lure, which mimics the bioluminescent displays of the Atolla jellyfish, together with her innovative “Medusa” video technology, which marries a noiseless floating camera to a “far-red” light source invisible to most sea creatures, researchers were able to capture otherworldly images of a squid approaching the bait.17

Chromatophores flashing from iridescent silver-gold to gunmetal blue, the animal danced in the dark, an emissary from a sunless, starless void. “The eye was very human-looking, but the whole creature just looked like an alien,” said Leslie Schwerin, a Discovery Channel producer who accompanied the research team.18 (The Discovery Channel will air the video as part of its show, “Monster Squid: The Giant is Real,” on January 27 at 8 P.M. Eastern Time.) “The color was utterly different than any of us expected,” Widder told NPR. “The one that had been brought to the surface [by Kubodera]...was red, and a lot of deep-sea squid are red. But this was a spectacular silver and gold. It just looks like it was carved out of metal, it‘s just completely breathtaking."19

The kraken of tall tales and sea shanties is coming into sharp focus, a flesh-and-blood reality. But why now?

Ellis thinks our increasing ability to peer and pry into the world’s most remote nooks and crannies has something to do with it. “We are only now learning how to investigate the ocean without sending a man down in a bathysphere or a research submersible,” he told me. “The use of robot cameras enables researchers to cover greater swaths of dark ocean without endangering themselves. The more we do it, the more surprises we get.” (His new e-book, The Little Blue-eyed Vampire from Hell, is about one such surprise, first described in 1903 but only recently videotaped in its bathypelagic haunt in 1992: Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the freakish little squid with the largest eyes in the animal kingdom, proportionally speaking; light-producing photophores dotting much of its body, like deep-sea Christmas lights; and of course that awesome name, worthy of a Norwegian death-metal band.20) Stealth—made possible by far-red lighting and noiseless cameras—is also a factor, says Widder, in increased sightings of giant squid and other figments of the oceanic unconscious.

Yet, as O’Shea points out, it’s commercial interests such as the oil industry, rather than scientific researchers, that are leading the charge in undersea exploration. “Deep-sea oil exploration is why we’re seeing footage from ROVs [remotely operated underwater vehicles] of Magnapinna [“—another species of squid, a “spindly thing” with “inordinately long arms,” which attains lengths of 20 feet] —at depths of four-and-a-half-thousand meters in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Nonetheless, some of the most dramatic still photos and video footage of megasquid are the fruit of painstaking labors by devoted teuthologists on a Mission from God to capture this thing on film and, with luck, in the flesh. “Dr. Kubodera spent three years—26 week-long expeditions—before he got the first photographs, and he did it in an area where he knew giant squid had to exist because that was the migration route of sperm whales,” says Roper. “He just kept going back, putting down cameras and waiting for things to happen and, you know, you do that enough, it’s gonna happen! Then, he went right back out to the same area, set a great big baited lure, and was able to snag one. He put in phenomenal effort over a very long period of time and he was successful; that’s what it takes.”

O’Shea believes that the media, by heightening public awareness of the animals, have played a prominent role in amateur sightings of megasquid. He cites edutainment programming such as the Discovery Channel documentary “Chasing Giants: On the Trail of the Giant Squid” (in which he figures prominently) and museums’ use of Architeuthisspecimens as a guaranteed draw, second only to Audio-Animatronic dinosaurs. (“Every time a colossal squid goes on display, we have another bloody media frenzy,” he says, with the unmistakable air of a scientist suffering from chronic kraken fatigue syndrome).

Of course, he adds, the Web spreads word of giant- or colossal squid sightings at viral-outbreak speed, whipping up Architeuth-ophilia and alerting everyone from commercial fishermen to boating enthusiasts to beachcombers of the existence of such creatures. “In 1925, [the British malacologist G.C. Robson] recorded two specimens [of Mesonychoteuthis] from the stomach contents of a harpooned whale down in the Antarctic,” says O’Shea, “and then probably the ‘70s was the next time these things were hauled aboard: the Russians caught quite a number of them when they were trawling for Patagonian toothfish. So it was in the Russian literature, but who on earth was going to pick up on that!? But in the ‘90s, when Google takes over, all of a sudden everybody is aware of these things, especially when you call them something like ‘colossal squid.’ Catchy name!”

Another, obvious explanation for the upspike in megasquid encounters is the fact that longline and bottom-trawling fishing technologies are plumbing—most marine scientists would say plundering—the ocean’s deepest places. For example, longline boats are venturing, increasingly, into Antarctic waters, where Mesonychoteuthisis known to feed on Antarctic toothfish.

“The depths to which we fish are increasing,” says O’Shea, “and we are encroaching into new environments with huge trawls and long lines. Is it any wonder that in the process of this invasion fishermen are capturing new, inconceivably bizarre animals?”

Roper joins the chorus. “The animal is not increasing in population density,” he says, noting that the best evidence, based on an exhaustive study of giant squid beaks retrieved from the stomachs of whales, indicates that Architeuthis numbers in the “multiple millions.” (Mesonychoteuthisis less studied, making population estimates for that animal guesswork at best).

Like O’Shea, Roper attributes the megasquids’ higher media profile to the fact that “we humans are now going to places where it exists.” Typically, Architeuthis can be found in the neighborhood of 400 to 900 meters, from the mesopelagic to the upper bathypelagic zones, he says; Mesonychoteuthis lives further down the water column, “probably 800 to a thousand meters.” According to Roper, “a lot of the deep-sea fishing nets, now, are going down to a thousand to 1200 meters.”

Not only are we reaching deeper into the ocean, he says, but we’re extending our geographic reach as well. Fisheries now extend “way down in the southern ocean, down around Antarctica. Until recently, there was no fishery down there, but with the traditional fish populations pretty well decimated, fishermen have to go farther afield, [and] they have to go deeper and deeper.” This, he explains, is why big squid are turning up in what is known as “by-catch”—the accidental capture of species other than the ones you’re fishing for (the vast majority of which are dumped overboard, dead).21

Vampyroteuthis infernalis—the vampire squid from Hell

For Roper, the recent uptick in big-squid sightings and captures is part of a larger, more ominous story. As our exploitation of the world’s oceans extends into their nethermost depths, could there be potentially catastrophic consequences? Could monster squid be the canaries in the coal mine?

Roper decries the bottom-trawling techniques that indiscriminately scoop up deep-sea creatures with “life cycles of 30, 50, 100 years,” seriously compromising a population’s ability to sustain itself. He offers the parable of the orange roughy, which grows slowly, matures late, and can live to the age of 130:22 “orange roughy spawn in coral forests on the edge of seamounts, where soft and hard corals grow to 35 feet. And along come the trawls and they essentially clear-cut everything. They’ve got gigantic rollers, and they just wipe out the forests.”

O’Shea, whose laconic New Zealand style tends toward the blunt, puts the case even more pointedly. Bottom trawling amounts to “raping the seabed,” he says. “If you’re working on seamounts or deep-sea reefs, your weights are large steel balls, which smash over the seabed to keep the lower part of the net above the rock itself. You can have stands of coral in New Zealand that can be 20 meters high from the seabed. The base of the coral can easily be two thousand years old, although the live part of the coral, the terminal branches, will be recent, perhaps from the last couple of decades. This is a huge amount of structure, providing habitat for myriad encrusting animals and smaller fish species. You can trawl through that, destroying two thousand years of growth at once—complete annihilation of everything that’s on the seabed, [including] coral communities that are millennia old, all for the purpose of taking out a couple of fish.”

Doubling back to the subject of squid, O’Shea observes that trawl nets are decimating 78 out of 86 species of New Zealand squid—all of those species whose fragile, free-floating egg masses are easily destroyed by trawl nets. He worries that trawling “will contribute to the complete collapse and loss of these species.”

Why should we care about a few less calamari, give or take a couple zillion? Two words, says O’Shea: “Trophic cascades,” the downside of that Circle-of-Life thing that gives us a feeling of interconnectedness with nature. “What are the cascading effects of this through the food chain?” says O’Shea. Nobody knows. We do know, however, that scientists are finding more and more whales—“sperm whales, pygmy sperm whales, pilot whales, all toothed whales”—suffering from “extreme ulceration of their stomachs.” Why? Because they’re not getting enough squid in their diets. Turns out squid are not only food to toothed whales but a source of water as well, since they don’t drink salt water. Thus, “they’re both hungry and thirsty,” says O’Shea; the ulcers, he speculates, may be caused by powerful digestive acids gnawing holes in their stomach linings.

But there’s a glimmer of hope. O’Shea “takes his hat off” to the New Zealand fishing industry, which “has volunteered 30 percent of the New Zealand EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone, the territorial sea zone within 200 miles of the country’s coastline] as no-bottom-trawling zones.”23 Roper is heartened by the prohibition on trawling “in a huge section of the Southern Pacific” following the Republic of Kiribati’s designation, in 2006, of a vast expanse of atolls, reefs, and deep-ocean habitat as a marine reserve,24 and George W. Bush’s transformation, that same year, of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands into a national monument—a stroke of the pen that created the world’s largest marine sanctuary, a protected area bigger than California.25 In 2009, President Bush added a huge swath of the American-controlled Pacific Ocean to that endowment.26

The Kraken

As always, however, there’s a buzzkill: cheered as they are over such protected zones, marine scientists can’t help pointing out they make up the merest fraction of the world’s oceans.27

At a moment when the commercial looting of the deep, with a little help from pollution and global warming, is banishing the notion that the seas are too immeasurably vast to be damaged by mere man, Architeuthis and Mesonychoteuthis are as portentous as they were in pre-modern times. The kraken that once reminded us of Hamlet’s words to Horatio, about the limits of human knowledge, still has stories to tell us, premonitory visions of the silent seas that wait for us if we don’t scrap the obsolete beliefs of the industrial age: the vision of nature as an inexhaustible resource, fuel for the engines of capitalism; the frantic cycle of hyperproduction and overconsumption that has piled high our landfills and spawned a self-assembling monument to our civilization: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating mass of mostly plastic debris that’s twice the size of Texas and weighs an estimated 3.5 million tons.28 29 According to a 2006 report by Greenpeace, marine species are mistaking refuse such as plastic bags and Styrofoam fragments for jellyfish and other prey. Inevitably, many of these animals, such as birds and sea turtles, die because they can’t pass plastic; they starve to death, their stomachs filled with trash.30

O’Shea has found plastic in the stomachs of giant squid. “The oceans are very sick,” he says. “The predictions that I have, in terms of published reviews, maintain that we will see the collapse of all commercial fisheries by 2025. Any fish that you’re getting on your plate when you go down to the supermarket will be gone by 2025,” commercially extinct though not absolutely extinct. “It’s going to be another 25, 30 years after 2025 before levels might have climbed up again to justify some sort of commercial fisheries. But during the intervening years, we’ll have had to go for an alternative food source and I don’t think that people are going to be so interested in completely annihilating the oceans all over again.”

“If we continue to go the way that we’re going as a global society, virtually all life forms are threatened, in one way or another,” says Roper. “It’s not gonna happen tomorrow, and if we wise up and respond quickly enough, it doesn’t have to happen. But we really, really do need to become better stewards of the oceans.”

In Tennyson’s poem “The Kraken,” the monster rises from the abyss at the end of the age, when “fire shall heat the deep.” Perhaps real-life sea monsters like Architeuthis and its colossal kin are surfacing in the public imagination to warn us that, in an increasingly virtual reality where the wild is something we click away from when we’re bored, we’re more entangled in nature’s incalculably complex systems than we know. Only a few degrees of separation, ecologically speaking, lie between us and nature’s darkest places, its most alien things.

Mark Dery is a cultural critic who never shrinks from the opportunity to write about Teuthida.

His books include The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink and Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century. He edited the trailblazing anthology of digital-culture criticism, Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, and popularized the culture jamming phenomenon through his widely reprinted monograph, Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs. His latest book is the essay collection I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays on American Dread, American Dreams.

He is at work on a biography of the author, illustrator, and legendary eccentric Edward Gorey (Little, Brown: 2014).

Endnotes

1 Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Institution, 1917) Volume 71 (Google eBook), . The image is attributed to John Murray and Johan Hjort, The Depths of the Ocean: A General Account of the Modern Science of Oceanography Based Largely on the Scientific Researches of the Norwegian Steamer “Michael Sars” in the North Atlantic (Macmillan and Co.: 1912), but the caption is the Report ’s, not Murray and Hjort’s.

2 Quoted in Richard Ellis, The Search for the Giant Squid: The Biology and Mythology of the World’s Most Elusive Sea Creature (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 11.

3 T. W. Kirk, “On the occurrence of a giant cuttlefish on the New Zealand coast,” In Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 12 (1879), 311, .

4 Quoted in Ellis, The Search for the Giant Squid, p. 85.

5 Richard Ellis, e-mail to the author.

6 For an account of the squid attack on Kerstitch, see “It’s Hard Out Here for a Shrimp,” Tim Zimmerman, Outside, July 2006, .

7 Howard Hall, “Mugged by Squid,” Howardhall.com, .

8 In an e-mail to me, Roper debunked the notion that Kerstitch’s experience was uncommon. “Just go to Santa Roselia, Mexico and ask the oldest fisherman you can find…he’ll reel off a number of incidents,” he wrote. Better yet, just ask Roper. “I was an attack victim in the Sea of Cortez in 1997 when we were filming the National Geographic special Sea Monsters: the Search for the Giant Squid (1998) ,” noted Roper, in a comment on the final draft of this article. “Some of the action appears in the film, but it certainly does not show the location of the bite, nor the amount of blood it caused. The bite went through my wet suit, dive skins, and bathing suit and caused a significant laceration on the inside of my upper thigh (it was uncomfortably too close to ‘home’).”

9 If this figure seems a little short of the Brobdingnagian claims made for Architeuthis in most pop-science stories about the animal, that’s probably because virtually every general-interest article dutifully repeats the magic number of 60 feet.

Steve O’Shea deplores the media’s perpetuation of what he believes to be a credulity-straining exaggeration, based on the 19th-century biologist Thomas Kirk’s eyeball estimate of a specimen’s length. In a comment on the final draft of this article, O’Shea wrote, “Kirk paced it, in his own words, for he had no ruler/measure handy, and I believe this misrepresentation has been perpetuated enough; if they were foot-on-foot, as in heel directly to toe, I would accept 57 (or 58, whatever the precise figure was), but I think perpetuating this as fact any longer is doing a disservice to science.”

Roper, in his comments on the final draft of this article, was even more conservative, writing, “there are no confirmed records of giant squid longer than about 45 feet total length. Most are in the 25-35 foot range. I have examined specimens in museums and laboratories around the world—perhaps a 100 or so—and I believe the 60 foot number comes from fear, fantasy, and pulling the highly elastic tentacles out to the near breaking point when they are measured on the shore or on deck.”

10 Ellis, The Search for the Giant Squid, p. 8.

11 Tracy Staedter, “Live Giant Squid Photographed for First Time,” Scientific American, September 29, 2005, .

12 See gallery of images, “First Live Giant Squid Photographed,” at Nationalgeographic.com, .

13 Quoted in Staedter, “Live Giant Squid Photographed for First Time,” ibid.

14 Clyde Roper, inline comments on final article draft.

15 Ted Chamberlain, “Photo in the News: Colossal Squid Caught off Antarctica,” National Geographic, Nationalgeographic.com, .

16 Ibid.

17 Architeuthis is attracted to the jellyfish’s panicked bioluminescent fireworks not because giant squid eat jellyfish, Widder informs, but because they eat the predators that prey on jellyfish. “The reason the lure worked is because it imitates a bioluminescent burglar alarm,” she explained, in an e-mail. “The jellyfish lights up when caught by a predator in order to attract another larger predator that may attack its attacker thereby affording it an opportunity for escape. It’s the same reason that birds and monkeys have fear screams.”

18 Quoted in Deborah Netburn, “Catching the elusive giant squid on video, watch a snippet,” The Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2013, .

19 Quoted in NPR Staff, “The Kraken Is Real: Scientist Films First Footage Of A Giant Squid,” NPR.org, January 13, 2013, .

20 See Richard Ellis, “Introducing Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the vampire squid from Hell,” The Cephalopod Page, thecephalopodpage.org,

21 No author, “Crisis in ocean fisheries,” United Nations System-Wide Earthwatch, Unitednations.org, .

22 G. E. Fenton, S. A. Short, D. A. Ritz, “Age determination of orange roughy,” Marine Biology, 1991, Volume 109, Issue 2, 197-202, .

23 No author, “Groundbreaking initiative to protect underwater habitats,” Ministry for Primary Industries, fish.govt.nz, April 4, 2007,

24 Brian Handwerk, “Giant Marine Reserve Created in South Pacific,” National Geographic News, March 29, 2006, .

25 Msnbc.com staff and news service reports, “Bush creates world’s biggest ocean preserve,” MSNBC.com, June 16, 2006, .

26 John M. Broder, “Bush to Protect Vast New Pacific Tracts,” The New York Times, January 5, 2009, .

27 William J. Broad, “Mapping the Sea and Its Mysteries,” The New York Times, January 12, 2009, . Relevant passage: “The problem, Dr. Earle said in the interview, is that the protected zones add up to a very small part of the global ocean, which covers more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface. ... They’re a tiny fraction of 1 percent. On land, across the world, about 12 percent is off limits for development, in parks or preserves.”

28 Justin Berton, “Continent-Size Toxic Stew of Plastic Trash Fouling Swath of Pacific Ocean,” The San Francisco Chronicle, October 18, 2007, h.

29 In an e-mail to the Boing Boing editors, marine biologist and science blogger Miriam Goldstein takes issue with the ubiquitous figure of 3.5 million tons of debris and inevitable state-of-Texas comparison that appear in virtually every article about the Pacific Garbage Patch. Goldstein writes, "Since the patch is formed of miniscule floating pieces that can be further together or far apart, comparisons to the State of Texas are misleading (though certainly ubiquitous). To my knowledge (and this is my area of expertise), that '3.5 million ton' figure has no source. I checked the linked article and it has no source there either."

Point taken. However, since these facts are near-universal in stories on the subject, it's not entirely unlikely that they originated somewhere. We encourage the Hive Mind to run these numbers to ground, and will append a correction or update once their origins are elaborated.

30 See Michelle Allsopp, Adam Walters, David Santillo, and Paul Johnston, “Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans,” greenpeace.org, November 2, 2006, .

 

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29 Responses to “The Kraken Awakes: What Architeuthis is Trying to Tell Us”

  1. IvonaPoyntz says:

    An amazing creature

  2. Pope Ratzo says:

    This blog post wins the Internet today.

  3. technogeekagain says:

    Have the videos appeared on teh interwebs yet? I’m guessing no, or not legally, since I haven’t seen pointers to them.

  4. OgilvyTheAstronomer says:

    “the animal danced in the dark”

    Probably needed a love reaction.

  5. millie fink says:

    This was a, um, good read. As in fascinating, and ultimately scary in a way it didn’t seem to be headed towards at the outset. I should’ve known, though, that Mark Dery would put an apocalyptic spin on this topic. This time, it’s entirely convincing.

    • Gulliver says:

      Something else to consider: the oceans are responsible for ~60% of carbon sequestration in the short term cycle. A cascading failure of even one aquatic biome could make the deforestation of the Amazon Basic look like a pinprick. Overfishing is bad; ocean acidification from pollution is worse.

  6. SumAnon says:

    I would just like to note:

    “… outdid themselves by hooking an Architeuthis near the Japanese island of Chichijima…”

    Chichijima can be translated as “Boobs Island”

    • millie fink says:

      Ha. Reminds me of when I found out what “Grand Tetons” means. Those French trappers must’ve been lonely.

    • NelC says:

      Unless there’s more than one Chichijima, I think you’ll find that 父島 translates as “Father Island”. “Boob Island” would be 乳島, which would sound the same. There are a lot of homophones in Japanese; always best to check the written form.

      • SumAnon says:

        Yes. I know. I speak and read Japanese. And I know ‘chichi’ has multiple meanings, hence the ‘can’ part of ‘can be translated’
        Way to totally miss the point.

        • NelC says:

          “Can” be if you get it wrong, you mean? I am only an egg as far as Japanese is concerned, but if I’m making a bad joke (and I do make bad jokes) based on an inability to read the language amongst people who know even less than me, I do try to telegraph it so that people know I’m joking.

          • SumAnon says:

            ‘Can be translated’ as opposed to ‘is translated,’ from an article that uses romaji instead of the specific kanji.

            I’m sorry you felt the need to throw in needless pedantry on a ‘lol boobs’ post. Continue to explain your own jokes, you crazy egg you.

  7. Gulliver says:

    Architeuthis: “Ah, well, it’s been a good life. Time to float to the happy fishing pool in the sky. Look at that light. It’s so peaceful…what is that bald ape doing with that axe?”

    Mesonychoteuthis: “Oh, that’s just my lunch.”

  8. ffabian says:

    Thanks for the article. Quite interesting and I appreciate the literature in the endnotes. I have but one small critique: please use SI units – this is a science related article after all. 

    • Mark Dery says:

      I take your point, but time constraints—and, more to the point, my laughable innumeracy—conspired against the laborious business of converting all measurements to SI. Rather than risk an error made in haste, I opted for the sloppy workaround of conflicting systems (SI versus U.S. customary). Awkward, I’ll grant, and inarguably nonstandard, but there are fewer elves making this Magic Kingdom run than you know.

      • Luther Blissett says:

        Ah, the horror! But, Google is my friend and has a handy answert to searches like “20 feet in m”. Otherwise, I’d be lost. The mile was 384m short of a nautical mile, and how many ounces can fit in a pint? The horror….THE HORROR!

  9. Rob Hawk says:

    ““The predictions that I have, in terms of published reviews, maintain that we will see the collapse of all commercial fisheries by 2025. Any fish that you’re getting on your plate when you go down to the supermarket will be gone by 2025,” commercially extinct though not absolutely extinct.”

    O’Shea needs to do some more reading. Even Boris Worm, the guy who inititially made the claim that all commercial stocks would gone by 2050 has backed off that position.

  10. Mark Dery says:

    Your air of authority is invincible. But inquiring minds want to know: do you have any expertise in marine biology or oceanography, or is this just Google erudition talking? O’Shea has a PhD in his field, has been associated with New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals, and is universally recognized, in his field, as a thought leader. And you are?

    • I love your writing, Mark, and I appreciate that discussing fisheries on the internet can be insanely frustrating. However, I don’t think anything is gained by blind appeals to credentials or authority. I have a Ph.D. in biological oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, but I am not a fisheries expert, and neither is the completely awesome Steve O’Shea.

      The paper that Rob Hawk is referring to (that predicts “the global collapse of all taxa currently fished by the mid–21st century”, specifically 2048) is Worm et al. 2006,  published in Science. However, that paper was highly controversial within the scientific community – see the response letters also published in Science – and led to a collaboration between Worm & fisheries scientist Ray Hillborn in 2009, which found somewhat less dire (though still dire) fisheries projections. There is a nice summary of the whole debate in Nature. So yes, it is correct to say that Worm has back off that position. 

  11. Mark Dery says:

    Miriam Goldstein: Thanks for your kind words about my writing. What you sensed in my thread comment wasn’t frustration at the vexations of discussing fisheries on the Interwebs, but eye-rolling weariness at the inevitable arrival of a common type spotted in these parts: the Master of His Own Domain, flush with Google erudition, who considers himself the equal of any expert on any subject. I’m hardly in thrall to the expert class, but I do believe it’s the limit case in hubris to presume to correct, on the evidence of a few Google searches, scholars who’ve spent their adult lives studying a given field. Granting that O’Shea is more knowledgeable than I am in the field of teuthology hardly amount to a “blind [appeal] to credentials or authority”; it’s just what reporters—generalists—do: rely on expert sources whose knowledge of a given subject area is necessarily far deeper, and therefore more authoritative, than their own. That said, I take your point that O’Shea may be out of *his* depth when he, a squid scientist, opines on the subject of fisheries. I appreciate your careful documentation of your point, here; if Rob Hawk had done so and, as important, hadn’t struck such a supercilious tone, I might have been more inclined to consider his argument seriously. However, your post in a sense argues my point that expertise matters: you cite your credentials, and adduce evidence in the careful manner of a trained scientist. Both make your post more powerfully persuasive than it would have been if you’d merely barged into the thread and, without giving us any reason to trust your knowledge of the field, dismissed O’Shea as cluelessly out of the loop. All that said, thanks for bringing the debate about “the global collapse of all taxa” to my attention. As you seem to suggest, O’Shea’s larger point stands: if we don’t become better caretakers of the world’s oceans, our diets are going to look a lot like the bill of fare in SOYLENT GREEN. I’d hate for that urgently important point to be lost in an arguably minor debate about when, precisely, taxa will collapse.

  12. Andrew says:

    I can actually say I read most of that. Good read. Unfortunately, as awesome as it is to find these creatures, knowing we are finding them as they dig for oil and more fish food is disheartening. I long for the day when we actually stop destroying the earth just because we think we’re the most important species on it.

  13. flyingmonkey says:

    I strongly recommend China Mieville’s ‘Kraken’ for more Architeuthis-related craziness…

  14. Mark Dery says:

    “I can actually say I read most of that.” I don’t know which is more instructive about the TL; DR age we live in: the “actually,” as in: I *actually* read most of that, or the “most,” as in: I read things, but can’t be bothered to read all of them. There’s my epitaph, right there: “I can actually say I read most of that.” In fact, every writer’s epitaph, in these ADD times. Next up: Thackeray’s _Vanity Fair_. As a listicle. Or charticle. Your choice.

    • Sad but true, Mark – the age of the sound bite and the tweet has reduced many folks’ ability to read and digest extended written work (although this is by no means extended, by most criteria: consider Russian novelists, for example).

      I found your article fascinating, and frightening in the implications towards the end. Whether or not most commercial fisheries will be fished out by 2025 is, to some degree, arguing over details: we *are* having a very deleterious effect on the life in the ocean, and exactly when the final crunch will come should be less important to us than what we can do about it.

  15. Interesting stuff – lots of doomer speculation tho.

    • Mark Dery says:

      Right. Scientific consensus *would* look like “doomer speculation” to anyone https://www.facebook.com/redmond.weissenberger who subscribes to the notion that “the only viable economic policy for the human race [is] a policy of unrestricted laissez-faire, of free markets and the unhampered exercise of the right of private property, with government strictly limited to the defense of person and property within its territorial area.” http://mises.ca/about/ Here’s to the comforts of property and the virtues of naked self-interest when we’re living on Soylent Green, huddled in hardened bunkers to escape the Freak Hurricane of the Month. At least we’ll have Mises to read. By candlelight.

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