The day a squid came to town

The washed-up giant squid

The washed-up giant squid

One recent Saturday the family and I were milling around at home on a cold, grey day. Cabin fever appeared to be imminent on the part of the youngest member of the household, so a Radio New Zealand news item about an unusual landing on the shores of Wellington’s south coast was very timely.

This news was good for us (and about half the population of Wellington by the looks of the traffic that day), but not so good for a poor giant squid, which had washed up in a watery ditch created by a storm-water drain in Houghton Bay. It was attacked (and presumably died) at sea and floated into the bay with the tide.

Relative sizes of squid

Relative sizes of squid

Before I went to see the colossal squid at Te Papa, I had ridiculous expectations about the size of these creatures, probably due to watching Hollywood films and reading Twenty-thousand leagues under the sea and such things as a kid. The colossal squid is certainly big, but not nearly as big as that word conjures up. I was prepared to be more realistic this time round.

This squid was of the giant category, the next step down from the colossal squid. Giant squids can grow up to 13 metres in length, but this was a mere 4 metres. Still, it was an impressive sight, partly because it was right in front of our eyes, unmediated by a glass cabinet. Scientists had removed the beak so they could confirm its age, and its tentacles were very battered. It looked very dead, and it was quite sobering to see such a majestic, graceful sea creature stuck on dry land.

Some people were getting very up close and personal, sticking their hands inside its body and carting round pieces of tentacle. We found this a little disturbing and thought more respect was called for, but I suppose others would have seen it as a rare learning opportunity. I was glad to hear that the tide had taken it back out to sea later in the day though.

While rushing down to the coast felt a little like rubber-necking at an accident, I’m pleased we saw the squid. It reminded me how mysterious the sea – which I probably take for granted having it so close to home – still is in the 2000s.

4 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Rusty || August 16th, 2010

    Mysterious indeed. Though, I’ve never understood the fascination with squid and octopi(what’s the plural for Octopus?). Even the football psychic variety (Pinnoctopus Nostradamus)

    There’s far more fascinating life down-thar…

    Perhaps that last one, you wouldn’t want the litte’uns to see. It’s nightmare inducing. He is smiling though.

    And don’t forget…

    OOooooo who lives in a Pineapple under the sea?

  2. Comment made by Kerryn Pollock || August 17th, 2010

    Thanks for those links to other weird and wonderful sea creatures Rusty. I think public fascination with these tentacled creatures is mainly directed at the big ones. There’s something about big things that raises the ancestral hairs on the back of our necks. That’s why scary monster films are often about big creatures – the bigger the better. So we get jaws, godzilla, Jurassic Park etc etc.

  3. Comment made by Helen Rickerby || August 17th, 2010

    Perhaps it’s the time of year for visiting cephalopods. We recently received this picture and story about a friendly (and photogenic) octopus near Pōrangahau, from Amanda Smart and her family: Unlike the Houghton Bay squid, the Pōrangahau octopus was very much alive.

  4. Comment made by Kids Encyclopedia || October 10th, 2010

    When I saw the picture in this article I had a flashback of a picture I saw before somewhere… and I’ve found it: (to the right) Pretty similar, I say. Seems like giant squids are washed to the sore quite often.

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