The Mother of all Squid

Now we can say that it attains a size larger than the giant squid. Giant squid is no longer the largest squid that's out there. We've got something that's even larger, and not just larger but an order of magnitude meaner.

The Colossal Squid, otherwise known as Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, was first identified in 1925 after two arms turned up inside a sperm whale's stomach. Since then only five other specimens have come to light: four more bits recovered from the stomachs of sperm whales whilst a sixth was caught near Antarctica somewhere by a Russian trawler at a depth of 2,000 to 2,200 metres and was recorded as 4 metres (that is 13 foot) in length.

Not a great deal was known about the species, except that it was big, lived somewhere deep in the cold waters of Antarctica roughly in the area between Christchurch and the Chatham Islands, and that its tentacles uniquely featured a set of lethal swivelling hooks that rotated through 360 degrees. Oh, and that sperm whales ate them, or at least bit chunks off them.

But no one quite knew how big they were.

Now another one has been found, this time virtually intact. This specimen was caught in the past few weeks in the Ross Sea, where it was attacking some longline-hooked Patagonian toothfish which were being winched aboard a New Zealand fishing boat. It was later examined by New Zealand squid expert and senior research fellow at the Auckland University of Technology, Dr Steve O'Shea. He concluded that the recovered specimen had a mantle length of 2.5 metres. This in itself is larger than that of the giant squid, Architeuthis dux, which is not known to attain a mantle length of more than 2.25 metres. What is more, Dr O'Shea reckons this one was only a juvenile and only around half to two-thirds grown and that the full sized version would be up to four metres in mantle length and reaching around 12 metres in total length. (Which is around forty foot.)

It is one of Dr O'Shea's research associates named Kat Bolstad, who is quoted as saying that it should be called the 'colossal squid', on the basis that 'colossal' conveys both the size and the aggressiveness of the animal.

The CephBase website however gives the common name for the species as the Antarctic cranch squid. This seems rather a disappointingly tame for such a fearsome-sounding beast, described by Dr O'Shea as one of the "most frightening predators out there" and that it was "without parallel in the oceans", "a gelatinous blob with seriously evil arms on it" and "something you are not going to want to meet in the water."

To summarize there is a forty foot long carnivorous squid out there that sometimes comes to the surface looking for food.

Time to stay out of the water I feel.

On the 22nd February 2007 Jim Anderton, the New Zealand Fisheries Minister, announced the capture of another colossal squid and offered the opinion that this was probably "the first intact adult male colossal squid to ever be successfully landed."

This squid was caught some three weeks previously in the Ross Sea off Antarctica by the trawler San Aspiring, based in the southern New Zealand town of Timaru. The trawlermen aboard the San Aspiring had just hooked a Patagonian toothfish, and simply got rather more than they bargained for. According to the ship's captain John Bennett, it "just appeared as a great, big, dark shape coming out of the depths" and was "just munching away" on the thirty kilogram toothfish they'd just hooked. The trawlermen deployed a cargo net beneath the squid, but it still took a further two hours manoeuvring before they could finally haul it aboard. Once aboard the vessel they established that the beast was 33 feet (or 10 metres) long and weighed in at a impressive 1,089 pounds (or 540 kg).

The decision was made to freeze the creature and return it to New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. Of course having frozen the squid, the New Zealanders are now faced with the problem of unfreezing it, since allowing the squid to defrost naturally at room temperature would take several days, and by the time the inside had thawed, its outer tissue would have rotted away thereby defeating the whole object. The current plan is to defrost it in a giant microwave oven. (There are apparently some examples used in timber treatment that should be big enough for the job.) Once defrosted the squid will be embalmed, and then plunged into a long-term preservative. Although as Bruce Marshall, the mollusc collections manager at Te Papa Tongarewa has pointed out, putting the creature on display "will require the biggest tank of anything we've got".

Technical Classification:-
Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Mollusca; Class: Cephalopoda; Subclass: Coleoidea; Cohort: Neocoleoidea ; Superorder: Decapodiformes; Order: Teuthida ; Suborder: Oegopsina ; Family: Cranchiidae ; Subfamily: Taoniinae ; Genus: Mesonychoteuthis


A photograph of the rather vicious looking appendage from the aforementioned squid can be seen at

  • Kim Griggs, Super squid surfaces in Antarctic at (02 April 2003)
  • Bernie Napp Sighting raises fear of giant killer squid,2106,2371002a6479,00.html (01 April 2003)
  • Tree of Life Web Project at
  • The cephbase website at

Additonal sources

  • New Zealand fishermen catch the world's largest squid
  • Kathy Marks, How do you defrost a giant squid? With a giant microwave, 23 March 2007

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