Thursday, 4 December 2014

Creatures of the Deep: Kraken - Part Two

Kraken by OchreJelly
'It was a giant squid twenty-five feet long.  It was heading toward the Nautilus, swimming backward very fast.  Its huge immobile eyes were of a blue-green colour.  The eight arms, or rather legs, coming out of its head - it is this which has earned it the name of 'cephalopod' - were twice as long as its body and were twisting about like the hair of a Greel fury.  We could clearly make out the 250 suchers lining the inside of its tentacles, some of which fastened onto the glass panel of the lounge.  This monster's mouth - a horny beak like that of a parakeet - opened and closed vertically.  Its tongue, also made of a horn-like substance and armed with several rows of sharp teeth, would come out and shake what seemed like a veritable cutlery.  What a whim of nature!  A bird's beak in a mollusk!  Its elongated body, with a slight swelling in the middle, formed a fleshy mass that must have weighed between forty and fifty thousand pounds.  Its colour, which could change very fast according to the animal's mood, would vary from a ghastly grey to reddish brown.
                                                                                          20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Last time we learned about the origins of the Kraken and his traits.  Today we will continue to look at the theories and accounts of the Kraken after Potoppidan's  Natural History of Norway.

In 1781 another description of the Kraken appeared in Jacob Wallenberg's Min son på galejan or 'My son on the galley'.  Wallenberg is quite obviously working from Potoppidan's writings while adding a few details of his own and concluded his description with the assertion that the creature must be the sea serpent Leviathan.  Here he wrote:
Giant Squid by AlexRuizArt

'Kraken, also called the Crab-fish, which is not that huge, for heads and tails counted, he is no larger than our Öland [the second largest Swedish island - less than 16km]...  He stays at the sea floor, constantly surrounded by innumerable small fishes, who serve as his food and are fed by him in return: for his meal, (if I remember correctly what E. Pontopiddan writes,) lasts no longer than three months , and another three months are then needed to digest it.  His excrements nurture in the following an army of lesser fish, and for this reason, fishermen plumb after his resting place...  Gradually, Kraken ascends to the surface, and when he is at ten to twelve fathoms, the boats had better move out of his vicinity, as he will shortly thereafter burst up, like a floating island, spurting water from his dreadful nostrils and making ring waves around him, which can reach many miles.  Could one doubt that this is the Leviathan of Job?'

In 1801, Pierre Denys de Montfort reported a picture he'd seen in the St Thomas chapel in St. Malo in Brittany, France which shows an enormous squid or octopus wrapping its arms around the masts and rigging of a ship.  This incident is said to have occurred off the coast of Angola.  The sailors apparently made a promise to St. Thomas that they would make a pilgrimage if he saved them and then set about chopping off the arms with axes.  They survived the attack and later went to the chapel where the illustration of the experience was hung.

Narrow escape by leventep
Facsimile of De Montfort's "Poulpe colossal."

Montford also interviewed whalers at Dunkerque in France, who told him many stories of giant squid or octopus, with Captain Reynolds describing a 45 ft long squid arm which was 2 ft 6in in diameter which had been cut off.  Captain Jean-Magnus Dens claimed to have encountered another giant squid off the coast of Angola which he said had attacked and killed three men aboard his ship.  The crew fired five harpoons at the creature before it died, with Dens estimating the monster's tentacles to be more than 35 ft long.  He believed that, had the monsters managed to attach all of its arms to the ship it would have capsized.  A Captain Anderson told Montfort of his discovery of two huge tentacles on some rocks near Bergen, Norway which he said were so thick he could barely put his arms around them and around 25 ft long.  Montford claimed that many mysterious disappearances of ships could have been caused by giant cephalopods and spoke of the disappearance of ten ships in 1782.  The Biritsh Admiral, George Rodney, had managed to capture six French ships and four British ships were escorting them back to port but none of them arrived.  Montford believed that the kraken was responsible.  He also speculated that the kraken's arms might be so immense that they could span the 8.9 mile Straits of Gibraltar. 

In his 1802 Histoire Naturelle Générale et Particulière des Mollusques, Montford classifies two giant cephalopods as the colossal octopus and the kraken octopus, which refers to the giant squid.  Unfortunately, the rest of the scientific community thought that Montford's claims were outlandish and unbelievable.  Montford became something of a scientific pariah and he died in 1820 from starvation.

Tentacle of a Great Calamary - Conception Bay, Newfoundland, Oct. 26, 1873.
In the early 1850s the Danish zoologist, Johannes Japetus Smith Steenstrup, began to look into rumours of the Kraken.  He was particularly interested in a number of accounts from the 1540s which described some kind of sea monster which had been captured in the Oresund Strait.  The creature was taken to the king of Denmark, who had the remains dried to preserve them.  They were considered 'a rarity and a wonder.'  A sketch of this creature resembled a squid of considerable size.  In an 1854 lecture, Steenstrup  asserted that the Kraken existed outside of mythology and should be classified as a cephalopod, giving the creature the scientific name Architeuthis, meaning 'ruling squid'.  Other scientists, however, doubted Steenstrup's theory until 1873, when a fisherman managed to capture a 19ft long giant squid off the coast of Newfoundland. 

In 1883 Henry Lee recounted this and another event in the book Sea Monsters Unmasked, where he wrote:

Giant Squid by Dkaz
 'Still there remained a residuum of doubt in the minds of naturalists and the public... until, towards the close of the year 1873, two specimens were encountered on the coast of Newfoundland, and a portion of one and the whole of the other, were brought ashore, and preserved for examination by competent zoologists.
The circumstances under which the first was seen... were briefly and soberly as follows - Two fishermen were out in a small punt on the 26th of October 1873, near the eastern end of Belle Isle, Conception Bay, about nine miles from St. John's.  Observing some object floating on the water at a short distance, they rowed towards it, supposing it to be the debris of a wreck.  On reaching it one of them struck it with his 'gaff', when immediately it showed signs of life and shot out its two tentacular arms, as if to seize its antagonists.  The other man, named Theophilus Picot, though naturally alarmed, severed both arms with an axe as they lay on the gunwal of the boat, whereupon the animal moved off, and ejected a quantity of inky fluid while darkened the surrounding water for a considerable distance.  The men went home, and, as fishermen will, magnified their lost 'fish'.  The 'estimated' the body to have been 60 feet it length, and 10 feet across the tail fin; and declared that when the 'fish' attacked them 'it reared a parrot-like beak which was as big as a six-gallon keg

While Lee doubts the fishermen's estimation of the squid's size, Mr Harvey, a minister, managed to obtain part of one of the tentacles which the fishermen had managed to chop off during their encounter.  Alexander Murray, a geologist of Newfoundland, and Professor Verrill of Yale, measured it at 17ft long and 3.5ft in circumference.  Lee writes, 'By careful calculation of its girth, the breadth and circumference of the expanded sucker-bearing portion at its extremity, and the diameter of the suckers, Professor Verrill has computed its dimensions to have been as follows:—Length of body 10 feet; diameter of body 2 feet 5 inches. Long tentacular arms 32 feet; head 2 feet; total length about 44 feet. The upper mandible of the beak, instead of being "as large as a six-gallon keg" would be about 3 inches long, and the lower mandible 1½ inch long. From the size of the large suckers relatively to those of another specimen to be presently described, he regards it as probable that this individual was a female.'  This encounter and Steenstrup's research into the sightings which had occurred in the past brought the Kraken from myth into reality.

Head and Tentacles of a Great Calamary Logie Bay, Newfoundland, Nov. 1873
The second event recorded by Henry Lee occurred in November 1873, when a smaller, but still large, squid came into the minister Mr Harvey's possession.  In this instance, three fishermen had found the squid tangled in their herring-net, which they were retrieving in Logie Bay.  Lee tells us: 'The body of this specimen was over 7 feet long; the caudal fin 22 inches broad; the two long tentacular arms 24 feet in length; the eight shorter arms each 6 feet long, the largest of the latter being 10 inches in circumference at the base; total length of this calamary 32 feet. Professor Verrill considers that this and the Conception Bay squid are both referable to one species—Steenstrup's Architeuthis dux.'

While there were many sightings and enocunters of dead giant squid over the years following the events Lee wrote about in 1883, sightings of the living specimen were rare.  One of these few sightings occurred in 1969 when Dennis Braun and two other marines aboard the USS Francis Marion had the opportunity to observe a giant squid of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, for over ten minutes.  They later estimated it to be around 100 feet long.

Colossal Squid Vs. Whale by AlizeyKhan
In 1995, a crew of whalers watched as a giant squid took on a sperm whale, which is its only natural predator.  Scientists later discovered the 50ft long whale dead, with one of the squids tentacles still wrapped around the whale's throat.  The scientists first believed that the whale had lost its battle with the giant squid.  However, the later found the mangled head of the squid inside the whale's stomach.

One of the series of images of a live giant squid taken by Kubodera and Mori in 2004
 In 2004 Japanese researchers were able to capture the first images of a live giant squid and then, in 2013, a Japanese crew recorded a the giant squid for the first time in its natural habitat.  While the squid was only 10ft long, this footage is considered 'ground-breaking.'  To view the video footage simply follow this link.   With the largest so far measuring 43ft in length, it is now widely accepted that the myths and legends which surround the Kraken were inspired by sightings of the giant squid.

That's all for today.  Next time I hope to share a few stories of the other legends which I haven't convered.  

Useful Resources

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession by David Grann
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Sea Monsters Unmasked and Sea Fables Explained by Henry Lee
Is the Bermuda Triangle Really a Dangerous Place? and other Questions about the Ocean by Melissa Stewart
Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Volume 2 by George M. Eberhart
Richard Freeman: Pierre Denys de Montfort: Prophet of the Kraken
Histoire naturelle, générale et particuliere, des mollusques by Pierre Denys de Montfort
Min Son på Galejan by Jacob Wallenberg
Until We’re Ransacked for Parts: On Dismemberment, Backward Motion, and the Book-Length Essay

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