A true giant of the deep was discovered in the throes of death on a South African beach on June 7, much to the astonishment of passers-by. The specimen, which measured 4.19 meters (14 feet) in length, is one of just a handful of giant squids ever to wash up on a beach and was probably not yet an adult.
The sighting was filmed by beachgoer Richard Davies, who told News 24 that he and others attempted to roll the enormous cephalopod back into the water but were left with no choice but to leave the animal to “die in dignity” on the shore of Britannia Bay after it proved too heavy to move.
“It was sad because I could see it was dying,” he said. “It was still pumping out ink and I touched one of its tentacles which sucked onto my hand and I actually had to use some force to remove it.”
The giant squid, which Davies says weighed between 200 and 300 kilograms (440 to 660 pounds), was later picked up by marine biologists from the Iziko Museums, who are planning to study it further.
Giant squid are highly elusive animals that were only caught on film for the first time in 2006. Living at depths of between 300 and 1,000 meters (985 to 3,280 feet), they are thought to be able to grow to a length of 20 meters (66 feet), yet typically only live to be around five years old.
Given the size of this particular specimen, experts believe it was probably less than two years old and still had a way to go before reaching maturity.
Thought to inhabit all of the world’s oceans apart from the poles, giant squids boast eight sucker-covered arms as well as two tentacles, each of which broadens into a large club toward the tip. The suckers that line these are surrounded by a ring of serrated chitin that acts as a tooth.
While beaching events like this one are extremely rare, this is not the first occurrence of its kind in South Africa. Back in 1992, for example, a giant squid measuring 9.1 meters (30 feet) was found in Kommetjie, Cape Town.
Exactly how this latest specimen ended up on the shore is something of a mystery, and scientists plan to investigate the matter in the near future. Wayne Florence, curator of marine invertebrates at Iziko Museums, told the Daily Mail that “the cause of death may only be known when we dissect the specimen, after the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted… But the specimen was in very good physical condition so I think we can rule out something like trawl damage.”