Giant squid (Architeuthis dux) can reach lengths of more than 66 feet (20 meters), or larger than a school bus, a provocative new study suggests.
This would be twice as large as some of the previous findings, which had estimated the maximum length of the elusive sea creatures to be between 33 and 43 feet (10 and 13 meters). The deep-dwelling sea creature, which famously has eyes the size of basketballs, has long been shrouded in mystery. Only 130 specimens have been found to date. Comparatively little is known about them, and scientists continue to try to learn more about the giant cephalopod.
“Lots of people believe all sorts of stuff about giant squids, which actually isn’t what the evidence says, [including] that it was the kraken and that it is pretty small,” Charles Paxton, a statistical ecologist at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews and the author of the study, told National Geographic.
— Femorale Shells (@FemoraleShells) May 22, 2016
The first recorded giant squid washed up onshore in Iceland in 1639. But the giant squid, which some people say inspired tales of the legendary sea monster Kraken, have eluded humans for so long that they were still thought to be myths until 2004, when Japanese researchers took the first photographs of a live specimen in its natural habitat. Ever since their existence was confirmed, one question has evaded researchers: just how big can they get?
That’s where Paxton’s research comes in. His paper, fittingly entitled “Unleashing the Kraken: On the Maximum Length in the Giant Squid,” was published May 17 in the Journal of Zoology. Paxton uses statistical analysis to argue that scientists have vastly underestimated the size of the giant squid. While previous studies have said that no squid could be larger than 43 feet, Paxton points out that there could be hundreds of thousands of such squids in the deep ocean, giving plenty of chances for them to grow larger than suggested.
In the study, Paxton extrapolates the maximum size the species can grow using a variety of categories of data, including over a century’s worth of sighting reports, beached carcass samples, and remains from the stomachs of sperm whales, using as much data taken from specimens of the creature directly as possible, according to Live Science. He used the size of numerous parts of the squid to measure the animal’s total maximum length.
“The data Paxton analyzed included 164 measures of mantle (body) length; 39 measures of standard length, which included the lengths of their bodies as well as the lengths of the longest of their arms; and 47 measures of total length, which included the lengths of their bodies as well as the lengths of the tentacles. (Tentacles are squid limbs that often end in teeth and hooks, and are usually significantly longer than squid arms.) Paxton also examined 46 instances where beak, or mouth, size was measured along with mantle length. He found that beak size could help predict mantle length, confirming previous studies.”
— RT (@RT_com) May 27, 2016
At the end of the extrapolation, the data shows that it is statistically plausible that giant squid could grow to have mantle lengths of 10 feet and total lengths of 65 feet or more, and “that’s a conservative analysis,” Paxton noted to Live Science. “I am extrapolating here, and extrapolation can sometimes be a bit sketchy,” he added. “But I think these are fairly safe extrapolations. I genuinely think that giant-squid size has been underestimated.”
There are some claims that giant squid can reach 100 feet (30 m) long, though scientific evidence for this is lacking. Perhaps not surprisingly, the study has been controversial: Paxton’s statistical methods have their critics, and there is currently no evidence giant squid can get as large as he is claiming, and some doubt the paper’s real relevance to the scientific community.
“This paper will certainly boost his citation indices, but probably for all the wrong reasons,” giant squid expert Steve O’Shea wrote skeptically, according to National Geographic.
Paxton says he hopes new research will be conducted to study giant squids and see just how large they can get.
[Photo by Barry Durrant/Getty Images]