NEW ZEALAND

The Kaikoura Canyon

         

 

The largest measured giant squid, stranded on a New Zealand beach in 1880, stretched nearly 60 feet from the tip of its mantle to the tips of its 40 foot tentacles. It was judged to weigh about a ton. Its eyes, the largest of any animals, were about the size of a person's head. Experts believe that even larger squid still exists in the Kaikoura Canyon of the South Island of New Zealand.

 

A beast of legend since Aristotle's time, the giant squid is the villain in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the sea monster of sailors' tales. What is not legend, however, are the remains of about 200 animals trapped in nets or washed up on beaches around the world.

In 1997, three dead giant squids were found in New Zealand waters and the remains were kept at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Wellington. The remains still possessed an aura of menace. The boneless torpedo-shaped body consisted of a mantle of muscular tissue surrounding a translucent internal support called the gladius, and evolutionary remnant of molluscan ancestors' shells. The squid's cylindrical head is attached to its body by a neck with a collar of muscle. Eight thick arms and two longer, thinner tentacles emerged from the head like a bizarre crown. Hundreds of suckers, each pivoting on its own base, cover the inside of the arms. At the end of the tentacles are "clubs" lined with four rows of saw-toothed suckers that look like round little mouths encircled by tiny pointed teeth.

To eat, a squid shoots out its tentacles and grasps prey, closing the tentacles like a pair of pliers and coiling them back to a parrot-like beep that cuts the prey into bite-size chunks. A raspy tongue flips the chunks down the oesophagus, which, on the way to the stomach, passes through the brain.  

Kaikoura Penninsula points towards the deep waters
 of the Kaikoura Canyon. A Maori legend says that
an apprentice wanting to please the Creator put
underwater mountains here to frame Kaikoura Canyon.

Beyond the breakers lapping the South Island of New Zealand,
the world drops off, creating a deepwater lair for the giant squid.
Earthquakes send torrents of silt sluicing through the canyon,
which lies at the head of a thousand-mile-long seafloor channel.

Scientists studying stranded sperm whales on a beach about 145 miles north of Kaikoura have found on every head, around the jaws, the signs of the giant squid in the form of arrays of round scars left by the saw-tooth suckers of the giant squid. A sperm whale eats about a ton of food a day, most of it squid. To find the giant squid, sperm whales must plunge into the depth of the Kaikoura Canyon. This could mean dives of 3,000 to 5,000 feet. Scientists are not sure if this is possible.

Even though the giant squid has not been sighted, electronic sensing equipment at a depth of 2,400 feet, have shown images of giant squid fighting with a three-foot shark. The evidence suggests that the giant squid exists in the Kaikoura Canyon. At the moment, this evidence is in the form of remains washed up on the beaches as well as electronic images of this elusive creature of the depths.

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 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 16th October 2008)