5 Things: Giant Squid of Newfoundland

Giant Squid, Glover's Harbour
Sculpture of a Giant Squid, Glover's Harbour, Newfoundland

The giant squid (aka Architeuthis dux) has always occupied a special corner of my mind.
  I love knowing that there is an animal — an enormous animal — that is so elusive that it managed to occupy the realm of myth until a century and a half ago. Over at Newfoundland Factory I’ve been tweeting some giant squid related trivia. In doing so I noticed that many of the island’s famous squid encounters/strandings happened in October/November so now seems like a good time for a deeper dive to meet the giant squid of Newfoundland.

1. The giant squid made the leap from myth to verifiable animal in Newfoundland.  In 1873 fisherman in a small boat on Conception Bay encountered a giant squid.  The squid reportedly attacked them.  In attempting to free themselves, one of the squid’s tentacles was severed. The tentacle was delivered to Rev. Moses Harvey, who was known to have a keen interest in the natural world. A month later Harvey was beneficiary of an intact squid carcass from Logy Bay.  These specimens allowed him to present definitive scientific proof to the world. 

2. Newfoundland is not only home to the first verifiable giant squid. It’s home to the largest.  A giant squid was discovered by fisherman in Thimble Tickle.On November 2, 1878 the men happened upon a living 16.7 metre (55ft) specimen that had stranded in shallow water.  The animal was described as ‘churning the water into foam’.  It was subsequently recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest squid in the world.  Today the squid is memorialized by a life-size replica at Glover’s Harbour.

3. More than 60 giant squid specimens have been found in Newfoundland waters.  That equates to about a fifth of the planet’s specimens.

4. You may have noticed that the three giant squid encounters that I’ve related happened in the 1870s.  It was sort of Newfoundland’s ‘golden age of giant squid’.  Reportedly, between 1871 and 1881 dozens of giant squid washed ashore or were seen floating along the island’s coast.  It has been suggested by some researchers that there is a predictable cyclical pattern to the strandings.  Memorial University’s biologist, and giant squid researcher, Frederick Aldrich proposed a 90 year interval.  This was supported by another small surge of squid strandings in the 1960s.  Lets see what happens in the 2050s! 

5. While giant squid sightings don’t happen everyday, they have continued to occur since the 1960s.  A 29ft giant squid, was found by a fisherman in Hare Bay, Nov 10, 1981.  That squid is now on display at The Rooms in St. John’s.2 Another was found in Triton in 2004.  So even if there is a cyclical 90-year pattern you never know when you might encounter a rogue squid -- keep your eyes peeled!

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  1. I love Newfoundland place names.
  2. I believe I saw this same squid on display at Memorial University when I was a kid.
I’m a curious guy. I always want to know more about the world and my place in it. The 5 Things pieces are an attempt to answer some of those questions. I set my sights on a topic, try to learn a little about it, and share what I've found.

Obviously, I’m no expert on the subject but I’ll never knowingly lead you astray.

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