In Search of Sea Monsters

courtesy Charles Cady

courtesy Charles Cady

Ever since adventurers first set out to explore the world’s oceans they have gone in search of sea monsters—or in spite of them. Encounters with strange and sometimes deadly creatures are recorded in the earliest records of the Greeks and Romans and up until modern times.

So the sighting in the summer of 2012 of a three-meter (ten foot) giant squid, known by its scientific name Architeuthis, just adds to that historical record. For the first time ever, the crew of a submersible vehicle filmed a specimen in its natural habitat. Both NHK TV in Japan and the Discovery Channel, two of the sponsors of the expedition, will broadcast programs in January of 2013 about this find.

The crew of the Ron of Argyll have also contributed to that history. They found the fresh battlefield and remains of a giant squid and sperm whale during the voyage from Tonga to American Samoa. We tell the story in chapter twenty-four of Beer in the Bilges, Sailing Adventures in the South Pacific.

courtesy Neil Gould

courtesy Neil Gould

The likelihood of that sighting was extremely remote, although there have been reliable reports by sea captains from as far back as the seventeenth century that have described battles between these two adversaries. But sightings of sea monsters such as the giant octopus, giant squid, and other unidentified creatures are not as rare as you might think.

The Ocean Almanac, compiled by Robert Hendrickson (published by Doubleday, 1984), gives a number of examples. One report describes how “Captain Floyd, master of the 150-ton schooner Pearl, in 1874 told a London newspaper how his ship had been wrecked and two of his crew killed by a giant octopus that seized the ship with its huge tentacles.”

Hendrickson notes another report in which “Arne Groenningsaeter of the Royal Norwegian Navy reported that on three occasions between 1930 and 1933 the motor vessel Brunswick was attacked by giant squids between Hawaii and Samoa.

courtesy Neil Gould

courtesy Neil Gould

Evidence indicates that these giants may live in the deepest parts of the ocean. It is no surprise then that the Ron of Argyll was not far from Samoa, sailing over the Tonga Trench when they came across the remains. Second in depth only to the Mariana Trench, the Tonga Trench reaches a depth of over 10,800 meters (35,400 feet) below sea level. This is deeper than the height of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on earth.

The largest giant squid to be measured was 16 meters (50 feet) in length, and the largest octopus measured was 9.1 meters (30 feet) long. If mariners’ reports are to be believed, larger examples exist.

Photo credit: Dmitry Bogdanov

Photo credit: Dmitry Bogdanov

And then there are the sightings that have never been explained that pose a mystery for science. Some believe that they are large eels, or ancient animals long thought to be extinct. Impossible? Well, Hendrickson also talks about the coelacanth, a fish that lived 200 million years before the dinosaurs, and thought to have been extinct for 70 million years.

A live sample was found by a fisherman off the coast of Africa in 1938, putting that theory to rest. More have since been caught. That only goes to show that where a mystery remains, adventurers will surely go looking for the answers.


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