Feb 26, 2023 I Brent Swancer

The Time a Sea Monster Attacked a U.S. Navy Destroyer

There have been a lot of strange encounters and instances of the weird reported over the years, and some of these have sort have slipped through the cracks to remain relatively forgotten. In some cases, the military is involved, and this makes such cases even more intriguing because they come from what is seen as a reliable source. One of these must surely be the time a sea monster supposedly attacked a U.S. Navy warship. 

The USS Stein (DE-1065) was a Knox-class destroyer escort commissioned on 8 January 1972. Named after Tony Stein, the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor for action in the Battle of Iwo Jima, the USS Stein served mostly with the 7th Fleet, engaging in a variety of operations in disparate locations including San Diego, California, Mexico and South America, the Philippines, Singapore, Karachi, and the Indian Ocean. The vessel operated until it was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 11 January 1995, before being transferred to the Mexican Navy and renamed the Armada República Mexicana Ignacio Allende, and the USS Stein had a rather pedestrian, uneventful career for the most part. That is, if you don’t count the time it was supposedly attacked by a sea monster.

Knox-class destroyer

In 1978, the USS Stein was on a mission in the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Acapulco and Ecuador, when something very strange supposedly occurred. According to the report, the ship’s main anti-submarine sensor, the large bow-mounted AN/SQS-26CX low-frequency scanning sonar, went haywire, experienced a blast of increased noise feedback, and ceased to function. At the time no one could figure out what was going on because the equipment had been examined before leaving dock and been found to be in perfect working order, and they were in the middle of the ocean meaning it was unlikely that they would have collided with something to cause the problem. The malfunction was serious enough that the vessel was forced to return to dry dock in California in order to investigate and initiate any repairs, and this was where things would get weird.

Upon returning to dock, it did not take long at all to figure out why the sonar had stopped working. It would turn out that the massive 27,215-kilogram (59,999 pounds) radar dome, which was located just below the waterline, had been badly damaged. Over 8% of the surface of the dome was found to have large tears in the rubber coating as if it had been shredded, with whole ribbons torn off and the largest gash reportedly measuring 4 feet long. It seemed as if something very large and powerful had attacked the dome and torn it to shreds, and corroborating this was the presence of large, curved hooks or claws that had broken off whatever it was and been embedded deep into the rubber. 

As repairs went on, the claws, hooks, whatever they were, were sent out for analysis and study, and were examined by Navy biologist F.G Wood, who concluded that they were from the tentacles of some sort of giant squid. The only problem was, these hooks were far larger than those of any known squid, and by Wood’s estimate could have come from an immense squid measuring upwards of a whopping 150 feet (45.72m) in length. If this were true, it would be absolutely massive. The largest known squid is the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni), a rarely glimpsed species mostly known for the hooks and marks it has left behind on sperm whales, and which is estimated to reach a maximum length of around 30 to 33 feet (9-10 meters) long, and which is the only known giant squid to possess hooks on its arms and tentacles. The discovery would mean that there was an even larger species of squid down there, or that the colossal squid is capable of getting much larger than previously thought. The discovery was also odd in that the colossal squid inhabits the Southern Ocean, also known as the Antarctic Ocean, which would put this far out of its range. It would also be odd in that these creatures live at extreme depths, and normally only come to the surface when they are sick, wounded, or otherwise on their last legs, so why would it have so aggressively attacked a Navy destroyer? Who knows?

The story of the USS Stein has made the rounds in cryptozoology and been seen as evidence of some previously undiscovered type of very massive squid lurking down in the deep parts of the world, but there has also been skepticism aimed at the case. One of the problems is that there is scant documentation for the incident. The report originally appeared in the U.S. Naval Institute’s magazine, but there were few details on where exactly the ship was or what really happened and not even an exact date given. The story then appeared on the TV miniseries Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and within the pages of its companion book, which gave more details but no source for those extra details. For instance, it claimed that this happened on the USS Stein’s maiden voyage but there is no official documentation to this effect. The TV show is also well known for playing up the mysterious angle of the topics it covers and brushing over certain less sexy facts, so there is a chance there was some exaggeration involved. Supporting this is that the only known supposed photos from the incident don’t coincide with the claims made about the damage done to the dome or the enormous size of the hooks found. Paleontologist Tyler Greenfield has said of this:

All three sources agree on the nature of the event. The culprit of the attack left behind numerous “teeth”/”claws” embedded in the cuts. Navy marine biologist F.G. Wood identified them as arm hooks from a squid. C. Scott Johnson, a Navy biophysicist, alleged it was an “extremely large species still unknown to science.” This statement is very doubtful, as video of Wood holding a hook shows it is roughly the length of his thumbnail. The average thumbnail length of an adult male is just 1.47 centimeters. Nonetheless, there is wild speculation about the squid’s size. The insulating rubber coating of the sonar dome, which was attached to the front of the bow below the waterline, had been ripped open. The cuts covered ~8% of its surface. Petty Officer Ira Carpenter claimed that the longest one was “about 4 feet long.” However, a photograph and video of a section of damaged rubber show the longest cuts to only be ~2 inches long. Either Carpenter greatly exaggerated their size or the much larger ones were not located on this section.

In my opinion, the Stein‘s assailant was likely a hooked squid, a member of the family Onychoteuthidae. Onychoteuthids are characterized by two rows of large hooks on each of their two tentacular clubs. It may have been the clubhook squid Onychoteuthis horstkottei, which inhabits the equatorial East Pacific, or a closely-related species. In an individual with a mantle length of 7.5 cm, the longest hook length was 0.38 cm. Using these proportions and the estimated length of the hook held by Wood (1.47 cm) results in an estimated mantle length of 29 cm for the Stein squid. This is larger than the largest known O. horstkottei, which had a mantle length of 11 cm, but other species of Onychoteuthis reach this size. Although a highly tentative estimate, it suggests that the hooks probably belonged to a small squid.

What was going on here and what are we to make of this? Was this vessel really attacked by some sort of large monster, and if so was it a giant squid or something else? Is there anything truly mysterious to this all, or can it rrationally be explained away? Whatever the case may be, the USS Stein incident remains out there lodged within the files of more obscure cryptozoology accounts. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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