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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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
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.
No known sightings except for the ones stated above.
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.
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