Everybody likes a gripping monster tale. Even more so when there is some chance the monster is real. Richard Ellis, in Monsters of the Sea: the truth about the Loch Ness Monster, the Giant Squid, Sea Serpents, Mermaids, and other Fantastic Creatures of the Deep, unravels a few mysteries, but quite a few are left to the Cryptozoologists, who work to determine which legends are based on real creatures.
My age-mates and I grew up thinking of the great squid as it is seen in the Disney production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I have followed the scientific reports and the surrounding legends on and off all my life. I remember reading of 18-inch sucker scars on sperm whales, compared with the 6-inch suckers on the largest squid known, about 50 feet in length, and being left to draw the obvious conclusion. Though it turns out the 18-inch and 6-inch figures are both wildly inflated, it is still likely that squid larger than the 50-footer exist. However, given that most squids mate but once, then die, I wonder just how big a squid can get before it gives in to the urge to reproduce?
I also have read that, with about a million sperm whales about, whose diet is almost entirely of large squid, there really do need to be huge populations of Giant Squid (Architeuthis), Humboldt Squid, and other "big" squid to supply the demand.
Well, as it turns out, many stories of Sea Serpents are more likely squid sightings. Some few may be of extra-large octopi. In the chapter "Blobs and Globsters," Ellis describes a car-size chunk of tissue found in Florida in 1896, that quite likely represented the remains of a huge octopus. The chunk was likely a major portion of the "head" and the stumps of the arms, and weighed five to seven tons. If it was in proportion to most other species, its arms were about 100 feet long. Compare in bulk to the biggest whole squid found, at about 55 feet and less than a ton of weight. That squid's tentacles (the two very skinny "catching" appendages) were 37 feet long, the rest of the body 18 feet long, and the eight other arms about 16 feet long.
The author presents legends and, where possible, background facts, about all the creatures in the subtitle and more, including whales and sharks. It is clear he is most fascinated with the cephalopods. He has a special chapter each on the biology of giant squids and on octopi. Just based on the powerful creatures we know to exist, we find that in the sea, we are prey. In spite of our technological superiority, a few folk each year end up as some sea monster's meal.
The book is well worth the reading, a great synthesis of scholarship and storytelling.