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Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni in the news

Michael Vecchione Vecchione.Michael at NMNH.SI.EDU
Tue Apr 29 04:10:52 EST 2003

I was asked to comment on this by the cephalopod discussion list, CEPH-LIST,
so I'll go ahead and paste my comments below for the deep-sea group as well.

Hi James;

Actually, Clyde, who is at sea in the Indian Ocean, sent me a copy of his
reply to an inquiry from the Discovery people.  It nicely summarizes most of
the problems so, rather than pound out my own reply, I have edited his
comments somewhat and pasted them below.  Among the stuff that I cut out was
a pount that he made very strongly that he does NOT want this to be
interpreted as an attack on the credibility of the scientists involved.

A couple of points that I would like to add to Clyde's comments: (1)
Mesonychoteuthis is one of the large species of the family Cranchiidae.  We
have observed several species of that family in situ, including a species of
the genus Megalocranchia which also gets quite large, and all
characteristically hang motionless in the water column using some variation
of the "cockatoo" posture.  They therefore are probably ambush predators
rather than "agressive", although even this inference is speculative.  (2) A
Mesonychteuthis this large is not unexpected.  Nesis reported mantle lengths
to 2.25 m back in 1982.  I also know of a photo that was probably taken in
the 1970s of a very large Mesonychoteuthis on the deck of a Russian ship. 
(3) Modification of suckers into hooks is widely found among oceanic squids,
including very small species. Although such hooks may appear vicious to
humans there is no reason to believe that hooks are any more than
modifications for catching some particular types of prey. The most credible
reports of squid attacks on humans are by a muscular ommastrephid whose
suckers are not modified into hooks.  (4) For an idea of where
Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni have been reported, see the distribution link to
BAS from the Mesonychoteuthis page on the Tree-of-Life,
 Interested readers might want to look at the Architeuthis page as well.

>From Clyde:

...I want to issue a PLEA to not go overboard on this ... I have read BBC,
CNN and MSNBC reports....Also, I know all too well how the press can put a
spin on anything anyone says, especially if it sensationalizes!  Given that
caution, I respond below.

  Specifically, I refer to the following from the BBC report:
  ---Catching one specimen in a fishing net is insufficient data to be able
to determine any species distribution in the water column. [also, it is not
unusual to finds typically deep-water species closer to the surface in polar
regions where the water is uniformly cold and, for part of the year, dark.
  ---The specimen was said to be 16 feet long, with a body of 2.5m (ca. 8
feet).  That might be a larger body than ... has ever seen ... in New
Zealand, but I believe there are Architeuthis bodies up to nearly 3m, at
least elsewhere [actually, credible reports to 5 m, MV].  In any case,
Architeuthis have been measured in total length at least to 50 feet (2
specimens at "60 feet"?) plus 1000 pounds.  So, I believe this is
speculative at best - in the excitement of the truly important and exciting
  ---"an order of magnitude meaner"?.  That indeed is absolute speculation,
something that cannot even be conjectured without observations of the animal
in nature.  Also, anthropomorphic!
  ---were Patagonian toothfish remains found in the stomach?  If so, could
it be proven that remains were from natural feeding or from frantic biting
in the net?
  ---"attempt to maul sperm whales"? also is absolute speculation, without a
shred of evidence presented!
  ---"without parallel in the oceans"? as a predator - Sorry, there are
dozens or thousands of species in various groups of marine vertebrates and
invertebrates that are very awesome predators!
  ---"only ½-2/3 grown"?  Where are the data?  Squid mature extremely
rapidly in their late stages of development, with massive (nearly ALL)
energy going into egg and sperm production, NOT into additional body
(somatic) growth. More unsupported speculation.  So this animal could become
completely mature, mate, spawn and die without becoming ANY bigger.
  ---"and the aggressiveness"?  Again, in the total absence of evidence and
observation this is pure speculation.

  Anthropomorphizing in the absence of data seems inappropriate at this
stage of our knowledge.

Best wishes,

Michael Vecchione
NMFS National Systematics Laboratory
National Museum of Natural History, MRC-153
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC  20013-7012  USA
phone: (202)357-4990
fax:        (202)357-2986
e-mail: vecchione.michael at nmnh.si.edu
>>> Loren Coleman <lcolema1 at maine.rr.com> 04/07/03 09:18 AM >>>
Daily Mail, London, UK
04/04/03 - News and city section

Colossus of the deep
By Richard Shears, Daily Mail in Sydney

It has eyes as large as dinner plates, suckers to cling to its prey,
razor-sharp hooks to tear its victims to pieces and two beaks to crunch up
the remains. 

It is mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, also known as the Colossal Squid, a rare
and lethal killing machine from the cold and dark depths of the Antarctic

The species has been photographed for the first time after the specimen here
was accidentally trapped in fishing nets.

It is larger and more aggressive than the giant squid which supposedly
attacked Captain Nemo's Nautilus in Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand
Leagues Under the Sea.

The half-grown female, which is being examined in a laboratory in
Wellington, New Zealand, measures more than 18ft and weighs 23 stone. Fully
grown, it would have come close to 40ft long.

'This is a very aggressive, dangerous animal - mark my words,' said marine
biologist and squid expert Dr Steve O'Shea as he studied the two arms and
eight fearsome tentacles, each of which has up to 25 teeth-like hooks.

'The Colossal is a gelatinous blob with seriously evil arms on it. If you
were to fall into the water down there in the Antarctic, if the cold didn't
get you first, something like this could devour you in seconds.'

Scientists think the animal was feeding on 6ft Patagonian Toothfish when it
was caught. 

Dr O'Shea said he knew such creatures existed because a 4ft 'baby' was
caught by a Russian trawler in Antarctic waters in the 1970s and the remains
of other squid have been found in the stomachs of stranded sperm whales.

Large squid and sperm whales have been known to have terrible fights to the
death because of the scars, caused by the squid's razors, found on the heads
of sperm whales. 

At least ten species of large squid - 6ft or longer - swim through the
world's oceans. 

The Colossal's body is much larger than the giant squid's but its tentacles
are shorter. Dr O'Shea said: ' This discovery raises questions about what
else lives down deep in the ocean, so from a science point of view this
catch is absolutely priceless.

'If animals like this are turning up in waters that are 6,000ft deep, what
is going on at 10,000ft?'

Find this story at 


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