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A Wilder View: Why Giant Squid Aren't the Biggest

squid eye
Giant Squid Stat
Colossal Squid Stat
Squid Eye Stats
Deep Sea Giganticism
Posted at 10:58 AM, Mar 22, 2023

MISSOULA – This edition of A Wilder View takes a look at the biggest squid in the ocean, and they will make your jaw drop!

While the giant squid is often the star of the show, our wildlife correspondent, Tanner Saul, reveals why they're not actually the biggest squid in the sea.

The mere thought of encountering the Kraken was enough to send shivers down the spines of even the bravest seafarers.

Tales of its wrath and destruction spread far and wide, causing superstition and fear among sailors all over the world.

And when the giant squid was discovered these rumbles from the deep helped turn this myth into a real living being.

When we think of the biggest squid in the ocean, the giant squid is often the first to come to mind.

After all, they can grow up to 43 feet long and weigh up to 600 pounds!

Giant Squid Stat

But they’re actually not the biggest squid. That title goes to the colossal squid.

The colossal squid can grow up to a whopping 46 feet long and weigh up to 1,200 pounds which is over twice the weight of a giant squid.

This also means they're the largest invertebrate on the planet.

While both of these creatures are exceedingly rare and prefer to live at deep depths, colossal squids are only found in the southern ocean around Antarctica.

Meanwhile, giant squid are found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

So why do we always hear about the giant squid and not the colossal squid?

Well, part of it has to do with the fact that the giant squid was discovered and studied long before the colossal squid.

Colossal Squid Stat

Scientists have been studying giant squid since the 1800s, while the colossal squid wasn't even discovered until 1925.

And its first discovery was just the head and arms found in a sperm whale's stomach.

It wasn't until 1981 that the first whole animal was found by a trawler near the coast of Antarctica.

Giant squid and colossal squid exhibit what is known as deep-sea gigantism.

That means they are larger than their shallow-water relatives.

The proposed reasons for this are colder temperatures, food scarcity, lower predation, and increased dissolved oxygen concentrations.

But the inaccessibility of the deep provides few determining factors.

Deep Sea Giganticism

You can also see this phenomenon in animals like the giant oarfish and the Japanese spider crab.

Colossal squids have hooks on their suckers, which are believed to help them catch prey more effectively, while giant squids don’t.

While both have sharp beaks made of material similar to human fingernails, the colossal squid has the largest beak of any squid.

Both the giant and colossal squid have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom.

Colossal squids have eyes that can grow up to 11 inches in diameter, while giant squids' eyes are around 10 inches in diameter.

A 2012 study hypothesized the evolution of these giant eyes was not for detecting prey, but instead uniquely suited for detecting very large predators, such as sperm whales.

However, a study the following year combatted this saying that the large eyes are a mere result simply because of their large size — and are likely more so used to absorb light.

Squid Eye Stats

Most of what we know about colossal squid and giant squid comes from sperm whale stomachs.

That's because after they reach adulthood, the only regular predator they face is likely the sperm whale.

According to the Museum of New Zealand, colossal and giant squid might form as much as 77% of a sperm whale's diet.

Like the giant squid, very little is known about the colossal squid.

Only eight adult colossal squid have been reported and six of those were found in sperm whales.

So, who knows what other discoveries await us in the unexplored depths of the ocean?

Maybe one day we'll discover even bigger squids, or perhaps the Kraken itself!

But until then, the colossal reigns supreme.