Elusive and mysterious, few animals in the ocean have inspired as many legends as the Giant squid. It is thought to be the inspiration for the kraken, a crab or octopus-like animal which sometimes attacked sailing ships. Images of the squid were later popularized in modern fiction, most famously in the science fiction classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.
These animals can grow to tremendous sizes with females reaching 43 feet (13 m) and males up to 33 feet (13 m). This is approximately the height of a three-story building. Giant squid are an excellent example of what is called deep-sea gigantism, or the tendency for some deep-sea animals to be of much larger size than their relatives who live in shallower waters. Despite its size, the squid’s morphology is very similar to smaller species. The body consists of a mantle, eight arms and two very long feeding tentacles. The arms and tentacles are all covered with suction cups ringed with teeth-like structures. Once prey is seized by the tentacles, it is drawn into a parrot-like beak similar to those found in other squid and octopuses. The squid also have small fins at the rear of their bodies which assist with locomotion and large gills inside the mantle cavity. The Giant squid have some of the largest eyes of any known living creature, measuring up to 11 inches (27 cm) in diameter.
This animal feeds mostly on deep-sea fishes and other squid. Outside of the Sperm Whale, It is unlikely that the Giant squid has many natural predators. It is believed that deep-sea sharks may prey on juvenile specimens.
Due to their elusive nature, little is known about the Giant squid’s range and habitat. Scientists have estimated both based largely on where deceased specimens have been found. It is likely that the squid reside in the deep-sea regions of the Northern and Southern Atlantic, the South Pacific and along the southern coast of Africa. No specimens have been found in polar regions.
Presumed common. There is no accurate way of knowing exactly how many Giant squid exist worldwide. Due to their few predators and the fact that they are not hunted by people, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has classified them as a species of “least concern,” meaning they are not under immediate threat of extinction or in need of conservation. Like all deep-sea animals, however, it is reasonable to assume that the Giant squid is susceptible to issues such as pollution, loss of food sources and climate change.
Related Features: Deep Sea Diver: The Sperm Whale