Octopus giganteus

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Grant, G. 1896. Pennsylvania Grit December 13, 1896.

The sea monster that came ashore on the Florida coast.

The head is as large as an ordinary flour barrel, and has the shape of a sea lion head. The neck, if the creature may be said to have a neck, is of the same diameter as the body. The mouth is on the under side of the head and is protected by two tentacle tubes about eight inches in diameter and about 30 feet long. These tubes resemble an elephant's trunk and obviously were used to clutch in a sucker like fashion any object within their reach.

Another tube or tentacle of the same dimensions stands out on the top of the head. Two others, one on each side, protrude from beyond the monster's neck, and extend fully 15 feet along the body and beyond the tail. The tail, which is separated and jagged with cutting points for several feet, is flanked with two more tentacles of the same dimensions as the others and 30 feet long. The eyes are under the back of the mouth instead of over it.

This specimen is so badly cut up by sharks and sawfish that only the stumps of the tentacles remain, but pieces of them were found strewn for some distance on the beach, showing that the animal had a fierce battle with its foes before it was disabled and beached by the surf.

Verrill, A.E. 1897. A gigantic Cephalopod on the Florida coast. American Journal of Science 4th series [January 1897] 3: 79.

The proportions indicate that this might have been a squid-like form, and not an Octopus. The "breadth" is evidently that of the softened and collapsed body, and would represent an actual maximum diameter in life of at least 7 feet and a probable weight of 4 or 5 tons for the body and head. These dimensions are decidedly larger than those of any of the well-authenticated Newfoundland specimens. It is perhaps a species of Architeuthis.

Tatler January 16, 1897.

The wide-spread interest in the very remarkable specimen of the giant squid, now lying on the beach a few miles below the city, is mainly due to its enormous size. It is believed to be the largest specimen ever found. Its great size and immense weight have thus far prevented its being moved for a more careful examination. A dozen men with blocks and tackle not being able even to turn it over. Another effort will be made with more extensive apparatus by which it is hoped to drag it from the pit in which it now lies and placing it higher up on the beach so that a careful and thorough examination in the interest of science can be made and the exact species determined. Professor Verrill of Yale and Profs. True and Dale of the Smithsonian are in constant correspondence with Dr. DeWitt Webb, President of the St. Augustine Scientific, Literary and Historical Society, in regard to it. Several photographs have been taken of it, but owing to its position, these have not been satisfactory. Mrs. John L. Wilson believes it to belong to an extinct species. Its hide is three and a half inches thick and its head is covered by a hood that prevents examination. Apparently it is a mass of cartilage and may have been dead in the water many days before it washed ashore on Anastasia Island.

DeWitt Webb's letter to William Healy Dall dated January 17, 1897.

Yesterday I took four horses, six men, 3 sets tackle, a lot of heavy planking, and a rigger to superintend the work and succeeded in rolling the Invertebrate out of the pit and placing it about 40 feet higher upon the beach, where it now rests on the flooring of heavy plank . . . on being straightened out to measure 21 feet instead of 18 . . . A good part of the mantle or head remains attached near to the more slender part of the body . . . The body was then opened for the entire length of 21 feet . . . The slender part of the body was entirely empty of internal organs. And the organs of the remainder were not large and did not look as if the animal had been so long dead . . . The muscular coat which seems to be all there is of the invertebrate is from two and three to six inches in thickness. The fibers of the external coat are longitudinal and the inner transverse...no caudal fin or any appearance if there had been any . . . no beak or head or eyes remaining . . . no pen to be found nor any evidence of any bony structure whatever.

Tatler late January, 1897.

Doctor DeWitt Webb, President of the Scientific Society, has succeeded in drawing the huge intertebrate out of the sand and securing it father up the beach, that it can be examined by scientists. So far as can be determined at present, it belongs to no family not extinct, and is principally interesting on account of its great size, being about twenty-one feet long, without a head. Professor W. H. Dall of the Smithsonian Institute, and Professor A. E. Verrill of Yale, are naturally much interested, and may be prevailed upon to visit.

DeWitt Webb's letter to William Healy Dall dated February 5, 1897.

I made another excursion to the invertebrate and brought away specimens for you and for Dr. Verrill of Yale. I cut two pieces of the mantle and two pieces from the body and have put them in a solution of formalin for a few days before I send them to you. Although strange as it may seem to you, I could have packed them in salt and sent them to you at once although the creature had been lying on the beach for more than two months. And I think that both yourself and Dr. Verrill, while not doubting my measurements, have thought my account of the thickness of the muscular, or rather tendonous husk pretty large, so I am glad to send you the specimens and I will express them packed in salt in a day or two.

Verrill, A.E. 1897. The Florida Monster. Science New Series [March 5] 5: 392.

These masses of integument are 3 to 10 inches thick, very tough and elastic, and very hard to cut. They are composed mainly of tough cords and fibers of white and elastic connective tissue, much interlaced. This structure resembles that of the blubber of some cetaceans. The creature could not possibly have been an Octopus. It was probably related to the whales, but how such a huge bag-like structure could be attached to any known whale is a puzzle that I am unable to solve at present. The supposition that it was the body of an Octopus was partly based upon its bag-like form and partly upon the statements made to me that stumps of large arms were attached to it at first. This last statement was certainly untrue.

Tatler March 13, 1897.

Professor Verrill of Yale University, who recently decided that the curious something, supposed to be an octopus, was one, basing his decision on the descriptions sent, has now concluded, after examining a piece of it, that it could not possibly be an octopus, and he cannot decide what it is. One theory advanced is that it may be a portion of some inhabitant of the sea, long since extinct, that has been fast in an iceberg for centuries, and recently washed ashore here. Another theory is that it is a portion if a deep-sea monster that on coming too near the surface was attacked by a shark, who found it too tough for a breakfast. One thing is now determined, and that is, if we do not know what it is, we know what it is not.

DeWitt Webb's letter to William Healy Dall dated March 17, 1897.

As you already know, Prof. Verrill now says our strange creature cannot be a cephalopod and that he cannot say to what animal it belongs. I do not see how it can be any part of a cetacean as Prof. V. says you suggest. It is simply a great big bag and I do not see how it could be any part of a whale. Now that I have had it brought 6 miles up the beach it is out of the way of the tide and the drifting sand and will have a chance to cure or dry up somewhat. If it were not for the soft mass of the viscera which was so difficult to remove that we left it there would be but little odour. As it is there is no great amount.

Verrill, A.E. 1897. The Florida Sea-Monster. American Naturalist [April 1897] 31: 304-307.

On the 5th of December, 1896, a portion of a very large marine animal was cast ashore on the beach twelve miles south of St. Augustine, Florida. When it first came ashore it was much mutilated at one end, and had evidently been dead for some time, and was, apparently, in an advanced state of decomposition. Contrary to expectation, it has resisted further decay, and still remains, after nearly three months, nearly in the same state as at first. It was first brought to my notice by Dr. DeWitt Webb, who has devoted a great amount of time and labor to its investigation and preservation. Through him I have received a dozen different photographic views of it, taken at different times, and showing it both in its original state and when it had been moved and partly turned over. Quite recently he has sent me several large masses of the thick and firm integument, of which the mass is mainly composed. By his efforts it has recently (with much labor) been moved several miles nearer to St. Augustine, to the terminus of a railroad, and protected from the drifting sand. It is likely to keep some months longer without much change, and to be visited by large numbers of people. The figures now given are copied from photographs made two days after it came ashore. At that time the sand had collected around it to a depth of about eighteen inches.

Its length is 21 feet; breadth about 7 feet; height about 4½ feet, when the sand was removed. Its weight was estimated at about 7 tons.

As shown by the figures, it has an elongated, pear-shaped form, broadly rounded at the larger, closed end, and considerably flattened toward the smaller and much mutilated end. At this end, as shown in both views, there are large divergent ridges covered by the frayed-out fibrous tissues. These ridges are folds of integument, but were at first mistaken for the stumps of arms, like those of an Octopus, and were so described in letters received by me. Moreover, Mr. Wilson, who visited it when first found, claimed to have found a portion of an attached arm, 36 feet long, buried in the sand. This last statement, in the light of later investiagtions, must have been erroneous and is totally misleading.1 At that time, however, it seemed quite consistent with the form and appearance of the mass which was described by Dr. Webb as closely similar to the body of the common small octopus. The photographs show this resemblance very clearly; and the ridges at the mutilated end, then supposed to be the stumps of mutilated arms, seemed to confirm the view that the mass was the mutilated body of a huge octopus,2 and as such it was described by me in the American Journal of Science and elsewhere.

As soon as specimens of the tissue were sent to me, even a hasty examination was sufficient that this view was not correct, for instead of being composed of hardened muscular fibers3 as had been supposed, the thick masses of tissue were found to consist almosy wholly of a hard, elastic complex of connective tissue fibers of large size. The masses sent vary from four to ten inches in thickness. They are white, and so tough that it is hard to cut them, even with a razor, and yet they are somewhat flexible and elastic. The fibers are much interlaced in all directions, and are of all sizes, up to the size of coarse twine and small cords. The larger fibers unite to form bundles extending from the inner surface radially. According to Dr. Webb, who opened the mass, these cords were attached in large numbers to a central saccular organ, which occupied a large part of the interior of the thicker part of the specimen. This might, perhaps, represent the spermaceti case. Naturally, most of the interior parts had decomposed long before it was opened,4 so that we lack details of the interior structure. Externally there is but little trace of cuticle. The surface is close-grained and somewhat rough, with occasional gray patches of what may be remnants of the outer skin, much altered by decay. The thick masses contain a slight amount of oil, and smell like rancid whale oil, but they sink quickly in water owing to their great density. No muscular tissue was present in any of the masses sent, nor were there any spaces from which such tissues might have disappeared by decay.

Statements that the creature cannot be an Octopus, but is of cetacean nature, were published by me in several local daily papers within a day or two after the specimens were first examined by me, and shortly afterward in the New York Herald and Science.

It is evident that such a dense and thick covering of fibrous connective tissue could not have come from any mobile part of any animal, but must have served for passive resistance to great pressure or concussion.

The structure of the integument is more like that of the upper part of the head of a sperm whale than any other known to me, and as the obvious use is the same, it is most probable that the whole mass represents the upper part of the head of such a whale, detached from the skull and jaw. It is evident, however, from the figures, that the shape is decidedly unlike that of the head of an ordinary sperm whale,5 for the latter is oblong, truncated and rather narrow in front, "like the prow of a vessel," with an angle at the upper front end, near which the single blow-hole is situated. No blow-hole has been discovered in the mass cast ashore. There is a depression, shown in the side-view, near the large end, that I at one time thought might be a blow-hole, but Dr. Webb states that it is a "sulcus" or pit two feet long and six inches deep, apparently not connected with the interior cavity and probably due to mutilation. The specimen was doubtless floated ashore by the gases of decomposition accumulated in the interior cavity, indicating the absence of any free external opening to it, from which the gas could escape.

Photographs made of the under side of the thicker part, when it was turned up by powerful tackle, show an irregular roughness on that side, extending well forward, but not to the end. The roughness may be due to abrasion, or it may show where the skull was attached. If the mass really came from the head of a sperm whale, it would seem that it must have projected farther forward beyond the upper jaw than does the nose of an ordinary sperm whale, and it would, apparently, have been much broader and blunter, or "bottle-nosed." It is possible, of course, that its form has changed considerably since death; but in view of its wonderful toughness and firmness, no great change of the larger end, supposed to be the anterior, or nose-end, is probable. All the pulling and hauling and turning of it partly over, by the aid of six horses and strong tackle, have not served to change its shape materially, or rather its elasticity serves to restore it to its former shape. Its toughness and elasticity remind one of the properties of thick vulcanized rubber.

It is possible to imagine a sperm whale with an abnormally enlarged nose, due to disease or extreme old age, which, if detached, might resemble this mass externally at least. It seems hardly probable that another allied whale, with a big nose, remains to be discovered. Notwithstanding these difficulties, my present opinion, that it came from the head of a creature like a sperm whale in structure, is the only one that seems plausible from the facts now ascertained.

1. The memorandum written by Mr. Wilson and forwarded to me by Dr. Webb is as follows: "One arm lying west of the body, 23 feet long; one stump of arm about 4 feet long; three arms lying south of body and from appearance attached to same (although I did not dig quite to body, as it laid well down in the sand and I was very tired), longest one measured over 23 feet, the other arms were three to five feet shorter."

2. This was also the opinion of a large number of naturalists who saw the photographs sent to me.

3. A highly contractile muscular integument is an essential feature of all cephalopods.

4. It should be stated after visiting the specimen, two days after it came shore, Dr. Webb did not again see it for several weeks, owing to very stormy weather and its distance from St. Augustine. Nor did anyone suppose, at that time, that its tissues could be preserved or utilized for study, owing to its apparently advanced decomposition. The outer skin rapidly decayed, but the fibrous mass seems very durable.

5. The dimensions of the head of a large sperm whale, 84 feet long, are given as follows: Length, about 25 feet; depth, 8 to 9 feet; breadth, 5 to 6 feet. The blow-hole is like a slit, about a foot long, and has a sigmoid curve. It is on the left side, close to the tip of the nose. The spermaceti case occupies a large space within the right side of the head. It is supported by strong fibrous tendons.