Leave giant squid alone.

Previously published Slate articles made new.
Sept. 25 2009 1:59 PM

Giant Squid

Don't mess with them.

U.S. scientists accidentally caught a giant squid in the Gulf of Mexico last week, the first spotted in those waters since 1954. But perhaps we should be more careful about how we treat this terrifying beast. After a Japanese crew snapped hundreds of photographs of the Architeuthis dux in 2005, Grady Hendrix warned that we had "violated our contract with the giant squid" and urged caution. The article is reprinted below.  

Is there any doubt that the scariest animal in the world is the giant squid? Just its name paralyzes my heart with fear in a way that "killer whale" or "jumbo shrimp" do not. Most of us first caught a glimpse of this denizen of the deep trying to kill Kirk Douglas in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and we all had the same question: How angry do you have to be to try to kill the recipient of an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement? The answer was instantly branded onto all of our brains: as angry as a giant squid.

The giant squid is an "eat the crew, ask questions later" kind of cephalopod, and motion pictures have rightly depicted it as a very angry animal that's not given to conversation. To see a giant squid is to be attacked by a giant squid, the saying goes. But, like Tom Cruise between movies, the giant squid is camera-shy. And, just like the diminutive actor, Architeuthis dux spends long periods lurking out of sight, surely up to no good, before bursting forth, tentacles flailing, and exercising its alternate belief system. In Mr. Cruise's case, the alternate belief system is Scientology. In the giant squid's case, the alternate belief system is a desire to wrap you in its horrible tentacles and poke you to death with its poisonous beak. There are similarities.

Usually we only see giant squid in artist's conceptions fighting sperm whales (very scary) or washed up dead on beaches (not very scary at all). But now the Japanese have ruined it for everyone. With the aid of a very long string and a bag of mashed shrimp, Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori have taken 500 pictures of the giant squid at home. Stripping all the mystery and dignity from this great beast, they got the not-very-coordinated, 26-foot-long monster to snag itself on their bait bag. No one said the giant squid was very bright, but the fact that it tried to free its tentacle for more than four hours before giving up and tearing the thing off doesn't do much for its reputation. Even the researchers' statement that the giant squid seems "much more active … than previously suspected" comes across as a little condescending.

Kubodera and his crew have taken great pains to emphasize that losing a tentacle hasn't harmed the squid, but if they knew anything about giant squid they'd cut the press conferences short and run home to protect their families from this now-livid cephalopod that almost surely wants revenge. The giant squid hates everything: It hates Kirk Douglas, it hates the crew of the Pequod, and it especially hates scientists who make it look stupid.

If man is to live in harmony with nature we must respect nature's needs, and the needs of the giant squid are simple:

a) three (3) metric tons of small fish per week, or one (1) sperm whale;

b) if giant squid is to make more than two appearances in one day, giant squid must be supplied with a rest area equipped with Bose sound system and six large, clean towels;

c) no flash photography.

We have violated our contract with the giant squid. Will any of us ever feel safe in the water again?

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