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Giant Octopus

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Bio:
The main evidence for the existence of giant octopi is the arrival of a globster on the beach of Anastasia Island, Florida in November of 1896. A globster is a large mass of flesh and bone that gets beached and is at first unidentifiable. Most globsters turn out to be basking sharks or, sometimes, whales. This, however, was not the case of the globster from Florida.

On November 30, 1896 Herbert Coles and Dunham Coretter discovered what they thought was part of a whale on the beach that was partially buried in the sand, leading to the thought that it had probably already been beached for several days. The next day, DeWitt Webb, founder and the president of the St. Augustine Scientific, Literary, and Historical Society, took a look at the carcass. The part that was visible at that time was 18 feet long and 7 feet wide. It was a very light pink. More importantly, Webb decided that the carcass was not a whale, but a giant octopus.

Edgar Van Horn and Ernest Howatt made the first photographs of the carcass on December 7. These do not survive, but drawings based on two of them do.The next day, Webb wrote letters to several people trying to get someone else to investigate the carcass. Several days later, a man living in the area named Mr. Wilson, excavated around the carcass and found what he claimed were several arms: "One arm was lying west of body, 23 feet long; one stump of arm, west of body, about 4 feet; three arms lying south of the body and from appearances attached to same (although I did not dig quite to body, as it was laid well down in the sand, and I was very tired), longest one measured over 32 feet, the other arms were 3 to 5 feet shorter."

One of the letters that Webb had sent, was to A.E. Verrill, a scientist who helped to discover the giant squid. Verrill published a note on the subject in the January 1897 issue of the American Journal of Science. He decided that the creature was not an octopus, but was, instead, a giant squid. If it was a squid, it would have been much larger than any known specimen of this creature. In an 1897 issue of the magazine Nautilus, Webb also called the creature a squid. Webb continued to send material on the carcass to Verrill and in the January 3, 1897 issue of the New York Herald, Verrill announced that he believed the carcass was a giant octopus. However, the paper failed to state that Verrill had written the article.

In the February issue of the American Journal of Science, Verrill named the creature Octopus giganteus and said "It is possible that it may be related to Cirroteuthis [another kind of octopus], and in that case the two posterior stumps, looking like arms, may be the remains of the lateral fins, for they seem too far back for the arms, unless pulled out of position. On the other hand, they seem to be too far forward for fins. So that they are probably arms twisted out of their true position."

Between January 9 and 15, the carcass washed out to sea again. Fortunately, it washed back up, on Crescent Beach. The "arms" found by Mr. Wilson had fallen off the carcass while it was out to sea. Webb attempted to have the creature turned over and even with a dozen men and strong tackle, he could only partially raise it. In a January 17th letter to W.H. Dall, Curator of Mollusks at the National Museum, Webb wrote: "Yesterday I took four horses, six men, 3 sets tackle, a lot of heavy planking, and a rigger to superintend the work and succeeded in rolling the Invertebrate out of the pit and placing it about 40 feet higher upon the beach, where it now rests on the flooring of heavy plank...on being straightened out to measure 21 feet instead of 18 ... A good part of the mantle or head remains attached near to the more slender part of the body ... The body was then opened for the entire length of 21 feet ... The slender part of the body was entirely empty of internal organs. And the organs of the remainder were not large and did not look as if the animal had been so long dead ... The muscular coat which seems to be all there is of the invertebrate is from two and three to six inches in thickness. The fibers of the external coat are longitudinal and the inner transverse...no caudal fin or any appearance if there had been any...no beak or head or eyes remaining ... no pen to be found nor any evidence of any bony structure whatever." No details of any of the internal organs that Webb supposedly found survive. On February 12, Webb shipped several samples of the carcass to Verrill and Dall.

Another article by Verrill about Octopus giganteus was published in the February 14, 1897 issue of the New York Herald. He speculated that it would have had tentacles over 100 feet long. He also suggested that it was killed in a fight with a sperm whale, and was partly eaten by this same whale, but was washed up by a storm.

On February 23, Verrill received the samples. His comments, written on the same day, appeared in the March 5 issue of Science: "These masses of integument are 3 to 10 inches thick, very tough and elastic, and very hard to cut. They are composed mainly of tough cords and fibers of white and elastic connective tissue, much interlaced. This structure resembles that of the blubber of some cetaceans. The creature could not possibly have been an Octopus. It was probably related to the whales, but how such a huge bag-like structure could be attached to any known whale is a puzzle that I am unable to solve at present. The supposition that it was the body of an Octopus was partly based upon its bag-like form and partly upon the statements made to me that stumps of large arms were attached to it at first. This last statement was certainly untrue." Verrill restated these views in another Science article, with a commentary by F.A. Lucas, who said, "The substance looks like blubber, and smells like blubber and it is blubber, nothing more nor less."

Verrill later said that it was probably a sperm whale. However, he also admitted that it was possible to criticize his hypothesis: "If we could imagine a sperm whale with the head prolonged far forward in the form of a great blunt, saccular snout, freely projecting beyond the upper jaw, and with a great central cavity, it might, if detached and eroded by the surf, present an appearance something like the mass cast ashore. It hardly seems possible, however, that the abruptly truncated and narrow snout of the common sperm whale could take on, even after being long tossed about by the waves, a form like this. No whaler who has seen it has recognized it as any part of a whale. It does not seem possible to identify such a large, hollow, pear-shaped sac, 21 feet long, with any part of an ordinary sperm whale unless its nose had become enlarged and distorted by disease, or possibly by extremely old age. No blowhole was discovered.

Other scientists, even after having examined the tissue samples, continued to think that it was a giant octopus. Verrill also may have had doubts about his whale hypothesis. It is unknown what Dall thought about the subject. In any case, the carcass, having washed out to sea and come back to the shore another time, was dragged 6 miles to a railroad and enclosed in a fence. What happened to it after this remains unknown. Verrill's specimens were lost during a move of Yale's Peabody Museum. Only Dall's specimens at the Smithsonian were left.

The carcass was basically forgotten until 1957 when Forrest G. Wood came across a newspaper clipping about the carcass in the files of the Marineland Research Laboratory. Wood the proceeded to rediscover what we now know about the carcass. (Gary Mangiacopra and others have also played an important role in this.)

Joseph F. Gennaro, Jr., went to the Smithsonian to get some pieces of the tissue for analysis. The tissue was so tough that to cut off two finger-sized pieces, Gennaro dulled 4 knife blades. The toughness of this carcass was nothing new. In a letter to Verrill, Webb said, "The hood is so tough that when it is exposed to the air, an axe makes very little impression on it." Gennaro prepared slides of the Octopus giganteus tissue, as well as octopus and squid. Unfortunately, Gennaro found that no cellular material had survived in the Octopus giganteus tissue. There was not very much cellular material in the octopus or squid tissue either. However, differences in the connective tissue patterns of the squid and octopus samples became readily visible: "In the octopus, broad bands of fibers passed across the plane of the tissue and were separated by equally broad bands arranged in a perpendicular direction. In the squid there were narrower but also relatively broad bundles arranged in the plane of the section, separated by thin partitions of perpendicular fibers...I could distinguish between octopus and squid, and between them and mammals, which display a lacy network of connective tissue fibers.... Viewing section after section of the St. Augustine samples, we decided at once, and beyond any doubt, that the sample was not whale blubber. Further, the connective tissue pattern was that of broad bands in the plane of the section with equally broad bands arranged perpendicularly, a structure similar to, if not identical with, that in my octopus sample...the St. Augustine monster was in fact an octopus ..."

Both Wood and Gennaro agreed that Octopus giganteus is a true octopus. But if there was a dead octopus, were would the live ones live? In 1956, Wood had been working on Grand Bahama Island. He had been working with a local fishing guide named Duke. One evening, Wood asked Duke about giant scuttles. "Scuttle" is the Bahamian word for octopus, and Wood had heard about giant scuttles while working in Bimini several years before this.

Duke knew of 3 sightings, the most recent of which took place about 10 years before this (around 1946). He said that their tentacles could be 75 feet long. (If Octopus giganteus was a normal octopus, it probably had 100 foot long tentacles.) They ordinarily lived in deep water, but would come into shallower water if they were sick or dying. They were not dangerous to fisherman unless they could reach the boat with one tentacle and the bottom with another.

The commissioner of Grand Bahama Island had also had a giant scuttle encounter. When he was about 12 years old, he had been fishing with his father off Andros Island. His father had hooked something, which he originally assumed to be the bottom. However, he could still pull up his line, but only slowly. Finally, at the bottom of the line they saw a giant octopus. It detached itself from the hook and clinged to the bottom of their boat. Fortunately, it soon dropped from their boat and went away. The event had taken place so long ago that the commissioner would not estimate its size.

It turns out that there were other, similar reports from Andros Island, where it is also called the lusca. It lives in blue holes. They can be up to 200 feet deep. Luscas are often blamed for losses of ships. However, there are also whirlpools in blue holes, so these accounts may not be related to true octopi. Other people from Andros Island report the lusca stealing people off of ships. It is also quite possible that the lusca is a giant squid. If Octopus giganteus did live in the blue holes, it would need a food source. Interestingly, several divers who have been in the blue holes report seeing giant crustaceans. Ordinary octopuses like to eat crustaceans and mollusks.

Sightings:
No known sightings except for the ones stated above.

Thoughts:
I would have to say that Giant Octopi are probably the most interesting cryptids to me. I plan on updating this page with even more info about these cryptozoological wonders.

More Info:
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Unatural Museum




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