As a follow-up to my previous article on the Sea Serpent-based research of author and naturalist Henry Lee, I thought I would share with you further data. This time, however, not on Sea Serpents, but in relation to the matter of giant-sized squid. This was an area of his work that really fascinated Lee – and to the extent that he sought out and collected just about as many such reports as he conceivably could. As one example, Lee recorded: “In the American Journal of Science and Arts, of March 1875, Professor Verrill gives particulars and authenticated testimony of…great calamaries, varying in total length from 30 feet to 52 feet, which have been taken in the neighborhood of Newfoundland since the year 1870. One of these was found floating, apparently dead, near the Grand Banks in October 1871, by Captain Campbell, of the schooner, B. D. Hoskins, of Gloucester, Mass.”
Lee continued with the story: “It was taken on board, and part of it used for bait. The body is stated to have been 15 feet long, and the pedal or shorter arms between 9 feet and 10 feet. The beak was forwarded to the Smithsonian Institution. Another instance given by Professor Verrill is of a great squid found alive in shallow water in Coomb’s Cove, Fortune Bay, in the year 1872. Its measurements, taken by the Hon. T. R. Bennett, of English Harbor, Newfoundland, were, length of body 10 feet; length of tentacle 42 feet; length of one of the ordinary arms 6 feet: the cups on the tentacles were serrated. Professor Verrill also mentions a pair of jaws and two suckers in the Smithsonian Institution, as having been received from the Rev. A. Munn, with a statement that they were taken from a calamary which went ashore in Bonavista Bay, and which measured 32 feet in total length.” Without doubt that was a significantly-sized beast!
Lee was not done, however. There was this, too: “On the 22nd of September, 1877, another gigantic squid was stranded at Catalina, on the north shore of Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, during a heavy equinoctial gale. It was alive when first seen, but died soon after the ebbing of the tide, and was left high and dry upon the beach. Two fishermen took possession of it, and the whole settlement gathered to gaze in astonishment at the monster. Formerly it would have been converted into manure, or cut up as food for dogs, but, thanks to the diffusion of intelligence, there were some persons in Catalina who knew the importance of preserving such a rarity, and who advised the fishermen to take it to St. John’s. After being exhibited there for two days, it was packed in half-a-ton of ice in readiness for transmission to Professor Verrill, in the hope that it would be placed in the Peabody or Smithsonian Museum; but at the last moment its owners violated their agreement, and sold it to a higher bidder. The final purchase was made for the New York Aquarium, where it arrived on the 7th of October, immersed in methylated spirit in a large glass tank. Its measurements were as follows:–length of body 10 feet; length of tentacles 30 feet; length of shorter arm 11 feet; circumference of body 7 feet; breadth of caudal fin 2 feet 9 inches; diameter of largest tentacular sucker 1 inch; number of suckers on each of the shorter arms 250.”
Lee added: “The appearance of so many of these great squids on the shores of Newfoundland during the term of seven years, and after so long a period of popular uncertainty as to their very existence had previously elapsed, might lead one to suppose that the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean which wash the north-eastern coasts of the American Continent were, at any rate, temporarily, their principal habitat, especially as a smaller member of their family, Ommastrephes sagittatus, is there found in such extraordinary numbers that it furnishes the greater part of the bait used in the Newfoundland cod fisheries. But that they are by no means confined to this locality is proved by recent instances, as well as by those already cited. Dr. F. Hilgendorf records observations of a huge squid exhibited for money at Yedo, Japan, in 1873, and of another of similar size, which he saw exposed for sale in the Yedo fish market.”
Also in Lee’s very own words: “When the French expedition was sent to the Island of St. Paul, in 1874, for the purpose of observing the transit of Venus, which occurred on the 9th of December in that year, it was fortunately accompanied by an able zoologist, M. Ch. Velain. He reports that on the 2nd of November a tidal wave cast upon the north shore of the island a great calamary which measured in total length nearly 23 feet, namely: length of body 7 feet; length of tentacles 16 feet. There are several points of interest connected with its generic characters, and M. Velain’s grounds for regarding it as being of a previously unknown species, but they are too technical for discussion here. This specimen was photographed as it lay upon the beach by M. Cazin, the photographer to the expedition.”
Another case caught Lee’s attention. He wrote: “The following account of the still more recent capture of a large squid off the west coast of Ireland was given in the Zoologist of June 1875, by Sergeant Thomas O’Connor, of the Royal Irish Constabulary.” Lee managed to secure the story in its entirety and related the words of Sergeant O’Connor. His account went as follows:
“On the 26th of April, 1875, a very large calamary was met with on the north-west of Boffin Island, Connemara. The crew of a ‘curragh’ (a boat made like the ‘coracle,’ with wooden ribs covered with tarred canvas) observed to seaward a large floating mass, surrounded by gulls. They pulled out to it, believing it to be wreck, but to their astonishment found it was an enormous cuttle-fish [which, like the squid, falls into the Cephalopoda category], lying perfectly still, as if basking on the surface of the water. Paddling up with caution, they lopped off one of its arms. The animal immediately set out to sea, rushing through the water at a tremendous pace. The men gave chase, and, after a hard pull in their frail canvas craft, came up with it, five miles out in the open Atlantic, and severed another of its arms and the head. These portions are now in the Dublin Museum. The shorter arms measure, each, eight feet in length, and fifteen inches round the base: the tentacular arms are said to have been thirty feet long. The body sank.”