Rare, intact monster squid washes up on South African beach

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      A woman on a morning walk found a rare giant squid washed up on a South African beach recently.

      Even rarer, the monster cephalopod was still intact when encountered by Adele Grosse, a resident of Cape Town, and her husband on June 7.

      "Oh, my word, seeing it at first really took my breath away," Grosse told Live Science. "Honestly, it looked like a majestic prehistoric animal."

      Grosse said that when she first saw the animal washed up on Golden Mile Beach in Britannia Bay (150 kilometres northwest of Cape Town), she wanted to save its life.

      "At first, I just wanted to get it back into the ocean, [but] on closer observation, one could see that it was dead." Grosse said there were no marks on the squid's body to indicate what may have happened to cause it to end up on the beach. She speculated that rough weather the previous night might have washed it up.

      Another observer, however, Richard Davies, who filmed the giant squid on the beach, said the creature normally found deep in the world's ocean depths was still alive when he attempted to roll it back into the water.

      ""It was sad because I could see it was dying," Davies told South Africa's News24. "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." 

      Davies said he and others attempted to roll the squid into the water but had to give up because of its weight, which he estimated to be between 200 and 300 kilograms. The animal's length is thought to be approximately four metres (about 13 feet), which is small for a giant squid, known scientifically as Architeuthis dux. Scientists believe giant squid can probably attain at least a size of 18 metres (60 feet), as long as an articulated bus.

      Grosse said she contacted Wayne Florence, marine invertebrates curator of Iziko Museums of South Africa, who transported the specimen to the museum to be frozen for future study. The find was not reported by news media until June 17, although Grosse posted some earlier pictures on social media.

      Florence estimated that the squid was probably only two years old.

      In an undated release, the museum stated: "Giant squid were historically thought to be comprised of several species, but based on DNA analysis of preserved museum specimens it is widely accepted that they are all attributable to a single species named Architeuthis dux. Newly acquired specimens for foundational taxonomic research have the potential for discovery of new species, underscoring the need for active museum collections."

      The beak of the giant squid that washed up recently in South Africa.
      Wayne Florence © Iziko Museums of South Africa

       Giant squid are thought by researchers to inhabit all of the Earth's oceans except for those in tropical and polar regions, going by recorded sightings and strandings. Equipped with eight arms covered with hundreds of suckers (themselves each ringed with teeth) and two feeding tentacles that can be twice its body length, a giant squid can quickly seize prey up to 10 metres (33 feet) away, according to the Smithsonian Institution.

      The giant squid's eye—the size of a dinner plate, the largest in the animal kingdom—aids it in locating prey and predators (thought to be mainly the sperm whale) in dim or dark ocean depths.

      The giant squid's huge eyes enable it to find its prey in the blackness of the ocean depths where it lives and hunts.
      Smithsonian Institution

      Its food is cut into pieces by a sharp beak in the centre of the base of its arms, and a toothed tongue inside the beak grinds it for ease of swallowing.

      The maximum size of a giant squid is difficult to estimate because so little is known of the marine creature and scientists' knowledge is based on measurements of specimens that have washed up around the world. Usually, these giant squid are in poor condition, having decomposed or been eaten by scavengers or broken into pieces by storms.

      Although 13 metres (43 feet) is the longest authenticated length of a giant squid, a method of determining body length by examining their parrotlike beaks indicates that Architeuthis could reach a length of 20 metres (66 feet).

      An 1865 illustration by P. Lackerbauer of an incident near Tenerife, Canary Islands, in 1861 in which a French corvette, the Alecton, became the first confirmed surface vessel to encounter a giant squid.
      Wikimedia Commons