When people think of giant tentacled beasts of the sea, surely the first creature to spring to mind is the giant squid or colossal squid. These are the rock stars of oversized cephalopods, and hog all the spotlight from their kin, the octopuses. It is often overlooked that there are very large octopuses lurking in the depths of our oceans, and if numerous reports from around the world are anything to go by, some of them are just as large and frightening as any giant squid.
The currently largest known octopus is the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), which inhabits the waters of the coastal North Pacific along California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, Russia, northern Japan and Korea, and are found at depths of up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft). The giant Pacific octopus is truly enormous, and particularly large specimens can reach weights of up to 50 kg (110 lb) and have a radial arm span of a whopping 6 m (20 ft). In addition to their large size, this species is known for being a voracious and indiscriminate predator that will prey on just about anything it can get its tentacles on. Along with the typical octopus prey of shellfish, shrimp, crabs, and small fish, the giant Pacific octopus has been known to attack and eat sharks and sea birds, plucking gulls from the surface and pulling them down to eat. They are very opportunistic feeders, and it is thought that they may not be above even attacking humans.
As large and as aggressive as the giant Pacific octopus is, there have long been reports of octopuses that are even larger than the recorded maximum sizes of this species, and if these accounts are to be believed, fully willing to take humans as prey.
An intriguing article appeared in the San Francisco Call, Volume 99, Number 96, 6 March 1906, that goes into great depth about a seemingly unknown species of very large octopus prowling the waters off the coasts of Northern California and Alaska. The author of the article reports having captured and handled a specimen measuring 38 feet in length, which was bizarrely described as being a weird, spider-like creature with two antennae and possessing tentacles 30 feet in length. It is also reported in the story that there is a type of "boulder like" octopus found off the Farallone Islands on rocky bottoms, which is frequently encountered by fishermen. The fishermen are said to occasionally snare the beasts, which are so powerful as to stop the boat which in turn leads the crew to think they have caught a rock or boulder on the bottom. It is only when they manage to drag the creatures to the surface that long arms shoot from the water and the fishermen are often forced to fight the monster off with knives and hatchets. These particular octopuses are said to commonly have radial arm spans of 30 feet and are not shy about attacking the boats and crews that come across them. Another specimen reportedly attacked a boat off the island of San Clemente and the crew struggled for over an hour trying to sever the flying tentacles.
These fierce octopuses are reported as typically living at depths of 600 to 1,000 feet, but are known to attack people in shallow waters close to shore. It is alleged in the article that in 1877, an Indian woman was bathing on the shore of Vancouver Island when she was dragged down to her death by a giant octopus, and there were numerous reports of hapless waders and swimmers being attacked and badly frightened by such creatures attacking them along rocky outcrops and coral reefs of the area. The author describes having captured a smaller specimen, which he again oddly describes as somewhat "spider-like." The specimen was reportedly kept alive in a tank and would hurl itself at anyone who came near it, wrapping its surprisingly powerful tentacles around people's arms in a way described in the article as "suggestive of what an adult might do."
The heavy imagery of something "spider-like" and the antennae that were mentioned make it difficult to discern what kind of octopus this could possibly be, but it certainly does not seem to be the giant Pacific octopus. Perhaps the "boulder-like" octopuses reported could be, but if they are then they are larger than the current known maximum size for this species.
Other reports of giant octopus attacks can be found in a surprisingly large number. The Colonist, Volume LIV, Issue 13492, 12 August 1912, page 2, tells of a diver called Ledu, who encountered a humongous octopus off the coast of Toulon while diving near a floating dock. The octopus lashed out and wrapped the diver in its tentacles, upon which a struggle ensued and the diver lost consciousness. Before blacking out, Ledu managed to signal that he was in trouble, and was hauled to the surface unconscious in the clutches of an octopus that reportedly weighed 135 pounds and had tentacles 35 feet long. The beast allegedly would not let go of the diver until it was stabbed to death and its tentacles hacked from its body. When he regained consciousness, the diver was able to describe his terrifying experience:
I went down without my dagger because I felt safe in the floating dock. I had been underwater for 15 minutes when I noticed an unusual movement, and saw with horror that I had to deal with a giant devil-fish. It immediately closed on me, winding its tentacles around me. In a moment I was helpless, but before I lost the use of my arms I pulled the alarm signal violently. Then I lost consciousness.
When I recovered I was in the float with my comrades around me. They had killed the monster, which had refused to let go, and was dragged into the float with me. They had a long fight before they mastered the creature.
The Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XXXX, Issue 13063, 1 May 1913, Page 8, tells the story of a miner by the name of Richard Shaw Burke who disappeared while walking along the rocks of the coast of Tasmania at a place called Trumpeter Rock. The disappearance became quite a mystery at the time, and there was much speculation as to what happened to the man. There was lots of talk of foul play or the man being washed off the rocks and pulled out to sea by currents, but no one suspected at all that the culprit could be a giant octopus. The mystery was somewhat solved when two men caught an enormous octopus not 80 yards from where Burke had disappeared that was described as being 12 and a half feet long, 3 feet thick from chest to back, and 3 feet across the back, which was the largest that had ever been found in Tasmania. When the octopus was opened up, it was found to have a shirt in its stomach said to be the same one Burke had been wearing when he vanished.
A particularly bizarre tale comes from The New Zealand Herald, Volume LXII, Issue 19047, 18 June 1925, Page 10. A man only known as Mr. Horne and described as an avid swimmer was about to enter the Te Aro baths when he noticed something squirming around on the bottom, which started to come at him as he stepped into the water. Alarmed, Horne quickly vacated the water to summon a custodian of the baths. The two of them managed with great effort to drag the thing to the surface, upon which it became apparent that it was a giant octopus. The men killed the creature and discovered that it measured over 20 feet long. More unusual than its huge size was the fact that the baths were totally enclosed and cut off from the surrounding harbor, so no one could figure out how it had gotten in. In the end it was speculated that the creature had either been washed over the walls to the baths by a storm, that it had somehow climbed the walls, or that the woodwork separating the baths from the sea had degraded and allowed the octopus to squirm its way it. The bathhouse claimed to be prepared to take measures to make sure the same sort of incident would not happen again, but one imagines that people were not rushing back to take baths there for quite some time.
Stories such as these of giant octopuses attacking human beings abound. A lot of money and effort has been spent on researching the more high profile giant and colossal squids, but perhaps it is a good idea to also look into the mystery of giant octopuses as well. It is apparent that there is a possibility of specimens of octopus every bit as impressive as their squid brethren and just as little understood. They are reportedly out there, lurking in the depths undiscovered, and apparently very hungry.