Though folklore from around the world suggests that humans have long been aware of the existence of giant squid, actual sightings of these mind-boggling deep-sea creatures – dead or alive – remain rare, even in the era of high-tech submersibles.
So, imagine how thrilling it would be to stumble upon a perfectly intact specimen while cruising by the beach. As reported by the New Zealand Herald, that’s exactly what happened to three brothers from Wellington this weekend.
Jack, Daniel, and Matthew Aplin were driving along the area’s southern coastline, looking for a spot to dive, when they spotted the washed-up behemoth near Red Rocks Reserve.
"My brother said 'what's that over there?' and pointed it out," Daniel Aplin, a member of Ocean Hunter Spearfishing and Freediving Specialists, on whose Facebook page he posted the photos, told the Herald. "It was right next to the track so we pulled over and we were like: 'It's a big squid'".
"After we went for a dive we went back to it and got a tape measure out and it measured 4.2 meters [14 feet] long," he continued. Clearly, the brothers weren’t too stressed about someone else coming along and stealing their thunder for the discovery.
"It was pretty clean, nothing major on it. There was a scratch on the top of its head but smaller than a lighter, tiny, wouldn't think that's what killed it," he said.
A spokesman from the New Zealand Department of Conservation told the newspaper that the trio had likely encountered the corpse of the species giant squid (Architeuthis dux) rather than the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). A. dux is believed to reach slightly lower total lengths than M. hamiltoni – 13 meters (43 feet) vs 14 meters (46 feet) – yet their two long tentacles and eight legs are longer.
Prior to 2004, when the first photographs of a live giant squid were taken, scientists had pieced together a rough portrait of the species by studying the partial remains or decay-addled bodies that are occasionally found on shore, floating on the water’s surface, or inside the stomachs of sperm whales. And while subsequent observations – including several live encounters captured on film – and examinations of complete remains have taught us more about the cephalopods’ anatomy and a bit about their diet, we still know very little about their behavior, distribution, and reproductive cycle.
The evidence we have suggests that giant squid live in all the world’s oceans, but prefer the subtropical and temperate waters over continental shelves and island slopes. It also appears that their bodies can readily adapt to withstand an extreme range of water pressures, from the surface down to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet). However, these theories must be taken with a grain of salt, as they are drawn from a biased sample – the evidence terrestrial humans have been able to gather.
Thankfully, the Aplin brothers’ fortuitous find could help advance our understanding. According to the news story, one of the men called a friend who works at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and arranged for the squid to be collected for research.
[H/T: Live Science]