In the legends and traditions of northern nations, stories of the existence of a marine animal of such enormous size that it more resembled an island than an organised being frequently found a place. It is thus
described in an ancient manuscript (about A.D. 1180), attributed to the Norwegian King Sverre; and the belief in it has been alluded to by other Scandinavian writers from an early period to the present day. It was an obscure and mysterious sea-monster, known as the Kraken, whose form and nature were imperfectly understood, and it was peculiarly the object of popular wonder and superstitious dread.
Eric Pontoppidan, the younger, Bishop of Bergen, and member of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Copenhagen, is generally, but unjustly, regarded as the inventor of the semi-fabulous Kraken, and is constantly misquoted by authors who have never read his work,the marvellous rather than of the useful, had described as resembling Gesner's 'Heracleoticon,' a monstrous animal which occasionally rose from the sea on the coasts of Lapland and Finmark, and which was of such enormous dimensions, that a regiment of soldiers could conveniently manœuvre on its back. About the same date, but a little earlier, Bartholinus, a learned Dane, told how, on a certain occasion, the Bishop of Midaros found the Kraken quietly reposing on the shore, and mistaking the enormous creature for a huge rock, erected an altar upon it and performed mass. The Kraken respectfully waited till the ceremony was concluded, and the reverend prelate safe on shore, and then sank beneath the waves.
And a hundred and fifty years before Bartholinus and Paullinus wrote, Olaus Magnus, Archbishop of Upsala, in Sweden, had related many wondrous narratives of sea-monsters,—tales which had gathered and accumulated marvels as they had been passed on from generation to generation in oral history, and which he took care to bequeath to his successors undeprived of any of their fascination. According to him, the Kraken was not so polite to the laity as to the Bishop, for when some fishermen lighted a fire on its back, it sank beneath their feet, and overwhelmed them in the waters.
Pontoppidan was not a fabricator of falsehoods; but, in collecting evidence relating to the "great beasts" living in "the great and wide sea," was influenced, as he tells us, by "a desire to extend the popular knowledge of the glorious works of a beneficent Creator." He gave too much credence to contemporary narratives and old traditions of floating islands and sea monsters, and to the superstitious beliefs and exaggerated statements of ignorant fishermen: but if those who ridicule him had lived in his day and amongst his people, they would probably have done the same; for even Linnæus was led to believe in the Kraken, and catalogued it in the first edition of his 'Systema Naturæ,' as 'Sepia Microcosmos.' He seems to have afterwards had cause to discredit his information respecting it, for he omitted it in the next edition. The Norwegian bishop was a conscientious and painstaking investigator, and the tone of his writings is neither that of an intentional deceiver nor of an incautious dupe. He diligently endeavoured to separate the truth from the cloud of error and fiction by which it was obscured; and in this he was to a great extent successful, for he correctly identifies, from the vague and perplexing descriptions submitted to him, the animal whose habits and structure had given rise to so many terror-laden narratives and extravagant traditions.
The following are some of his remarks on the subject of this gigantic and ill-defined animal. Although I have greatly abbreviated them, I have thought it right to quote them at considerable length, that the modest and candid spirit in which they were written may be understood:
"Amongst the many things," he says, "which are in the ocean, and concealed from our eyes, or only presented to our view for a few minutes, is the Kraken. This creature is the largest and most surprising of all the animal creation, and consequently well deserves such an account as the nature of the thing, according to the Creator's wise ordinances, will admit of. Such I shall give at present, and perhaps much greater light on this subject may be reserved for posterity.
"Our fishermen unanimously affirm, and without the least variation in their accounts, that when they row out several miles to sea, particularly in the hot summer days, and by their situation (which they know by taking a view of different points of land) expect to find eighty or a hundred fathoms of water, it often happens that they do not find above twenty or thirty, and sometimes less. At these places they generally find the greatest plenty of fish, especially cod and ling. Their lines, they say, are no sooner out than they may draw them up with the hooks all full of fish. By this they know that the Kraken is at the bottom. They say this creature causes those unnatural shallows mentioned above, and prevents their sounding. These the fishermen are always glad to find, looking upon them as a means of their taking abundance of fish. There are sometimes twenty boats or more got together and throwing out their lines at a moderate distance from each other; and the only thing they then have to observe is whether the depth continues the same, which they know by their lines, or whether it grows shallower, by their seeming to have less water. If this last be the case they know that the Kraken is raising himself nearer the surface, and then it is not time for them to stay any longer; they immediately leave off fishing, take to their oars, and get away as fast as they can. When they have reached the usual depth of the place, and find themselves out of danger, they lie upon their oars, and in a few minutes after they see this enormous monster come up to the surface of the water; he there shows himself sufficiently, though his whole body does not appear, which, in all likelihood, no human eye ever beheld. Its back or upper part, which seems to be in appearance about an English mile and a half in circumference (some say more, but I chuse the least for greater certainty), looks at first like a number of small islands surrounded with something that floats and fluctuates like sea-weeds. Here and there a larger rising is observed like sand-banks, on which various kinds of small fishes are seen continually leaping about till they roll off into the water from the sides of it; at last several bright points or horns appear, which grow thicker and thicker the higher they rise above the surface of the water, and sometimes they stand up as high and as large as the masts of middle-sized vessels. It seems these are the creature's arms, and it is said if they were to lay hold of the largest man of war they would pull it down to the bottom. After this monster has been on the surface of the water a short time it begins slowly to sink again, and then the danger is as great as before; because the motion of his sinking causes such a swell in the sea, and such an eddy or whirlpool, that it draws everything down with it, like the current of the river Male.
"As this enormous sea-animal in all probability may be reckoned of the Polype, or of the Starfish kind, as shall hereafter be more fully proved, it seems that the parts which are seen rising at its pleasure, and are called arms, are properly the tentacula, or feeling instruments, called horns, as well as arms. With these they move themselves, and likewise gather in their food.
"Besides these, for this last purpose the great Creator has also given this creature a strong and peculiar scent, which it can emit at certain times, and by means of which it beguiles and draws other fish to come in heaps about it. This animal has another strange property, known by the experience of many old fishermen. They observe that for some months the Kraken or Krabben is continually eating, and in other months he always voids his excrements. During this evacuation the surface of the water is coloured with the excrement, and appears quite thick and turbid. This muddiness is said to be so very agreeable to the smell or taste of other fishes, or to both, that they gather together from all parts to it, and keep for that purpose directly over the Kraken; he then opens his arms or horns, seizes and swallows his welcome guests, and converts them after due time, by digestion, into a bait for other fish of the same kind. I relate what is affirmed by many; but I cannot give so certain assurances of this particular, as I can of the existence of this surprising creature; though I do not find anything in it absolutely contrary to Nature. As we can hardly expect to examine this enormous sea-animal alive, I am the more concerned that nobody embraced that opportunity which, according to the following account once did, and perhaps never more may offer, of seeing it entire when dead."
The lost opportunity which the worthy prelate thus lamented, with the true feeling of a naturalist, was made known to him by the Rev. Mr. Friis, Consistorial Assessor, Minister of Bodoen in Nordland, and Vicar of the college for promoting Christian knowledge, and was to the following effect:
"In the year 1680, a Krake (perhaps a young and foolish one) came into the water that runs between the rocks and cliffs in the parish of Alstaboug, though the general custom of that creature is to keep always several leagues from land, and therefore of course they must die there. It happened that its extended long arms or antennæ, which this creature seems to use like the snail in turning about, caught hold of some trees standing near the water, which might easily have been torn up by the roots; but beside this, as it was found afterwards, he entangled himself in some openings or clefts in the rock, and therein stuck so fast, and hung so unfortunately, that he could not work himself out, but perished and putrefied on the spot. The carcass, which was a long while decaying, and filled great part of that narrow channel, made it almost impassable by its intolerable stench.
"The Kraken has never been known to do any great harm, except," the Author quaintly says, "they have taken away the lives of those who consequently could not bring the tidings. I have heard but one instance mentioned, which happened a few years ago, near Fridrichstad, in the diocess of Aggerhuus. They say that two fishermen accidentally, and to their great surprise, fell into such a spot on the water as has been before described, full of a thick slime almost like a morass. They immediately strove to get out of this place, but they had not time to turn quick enough to save themselves from one of the Kraken's horns, which crushed the head of the boat, so that it was with great difficulty they saved their lives on the wreck, though the weather was as calm as possible; for these monsters, like the sea-snake, never appear at other times."
Pontoppidan then reviews the stories of floating islands which suddenly appear, and as suddenly vanish, commonly credited, and especially mentioned by Luke Debes in his 'Description of Faroe.'
"These islands in the boisterous ocean could not be imagined," he says, "to be of the nature of real floating islands, because they could not possibly stand against the violence of the waves in the ocean, which break the largest vessels, and therefore our sailors have concluded this delusion could come from no other than the great deceiver, the devil."
This accusation, the good bishop, in his desire to be strictly impartial, will not admit on such hear-say evidence, but is determined to, literally, "give the devil his due;" for he warns his readers that "we ought not to charge that apostate spirit without a cause; for," he adds, "I rather think that this devil who so suddenly makes and unmakes these floating islands, is nothing else but the Kraken."
Referring to a monster described by Pliny, he repeats his belief that "This sea-animal belongs to the Polype, or Star-fish species;" but he becomes very much "mixed" between the Cephalopoda and the Asteridæ, between the pedal segments, or arms, of the cuttle radiating from its head, and the rays of a Star-fish radiating from a central portion of the body. He evidently inclines strongly towards a particular Star-fish, the rays of which continually divide and subdivide themselves, or, as he describes it, "which shoots its rays into branches like those of trees," and to which he gave the name of "Medusa's Head," a title by which, in its Greek form, Gorgonocephalus, it is still known to zoologists. "These Medusa's Heads," he says, "are supposed by some seafaring people here, to be the young of the Sea-Krake; perhaps they are its smallest ovula." After considering other reports concerning the Kraken, he arrives at the following definite opinion:
"We learn from all this that the Polype or Starfish have amongst their various species some that are much larger than others; and, according to all appearance, amongst the very largest inhabitants of the ocean. If the axiom be true that greatness or littleness makes no change in the species, then this Krake must be of the Polypus kind, notwithstanding its enormous size."
His diagnosis is correct; but it is stated with a modesty which his detractors would do well to imitate; and his concluding words on this subject place him in a light very different from that in which he is popularly regarded:
"I do not in the least insist on this conjecture being true," he writes, "but willingly submit my suppositions in this and every other dubious matter to the judgment of those who are better experienced. If I was an admirer of uncertain reports and fabulous stories, I might here add much more concerning this and other Norwegian sea-monsters, whose existence I will not take upon me to deny, but do not chuse, by a mixture of uncertain relations to make such account appear doubtful as I myself believe to be true and well attested. I shall therefore quit the subject here, and leave it to future writers on this plan to complete what I have imperfectly sketched out, by further experience, which is always the best instructor."
It is easy to recognise in Pontoppidan's description of the Kraken, the form and habits of one of the "Cuttle-fishes," so-called. The appearance of its numerous arms, with which it gathers in its food, and which grow thicker and thicker as they rise above the surface, is just what would take place in the case of one of the pelagic species of these mollusks raising its head out of the sea. The rendering of the water turbid and thick by the emission of a substance which the narrator supposed to be fæcal matter, is exactly that which occurs when a cuttle discharges the contents of the remarkable organ known as its ink-bag; and the strong and peculiar scent mentioned as appertaining to it, is actually characteristic of its inky secretion. The musky odour referred to, is more perceptible in some species than in others. In one of the Octopods (Eledone moschatus), it is so strong, that the specific name of the animal is derived from it.
The ancient Greeks and Romans, who were well acquainted with the various kinds of cuttles and regarded them all as excellent food, and even as delicacies of the table, applied the word "polypus" especially to the octopus. But Pontoppidan evidently uses it as descriptive of all the cephalopods. It must not be forgotten, however, that when he wrote, science was only slowly recovering from neglect of many centuries' duration. In the enlightened times of Greece and Rome, natural history flourished, and as in our day, attracted and occupied the attention of the man of science, and afforded recreation to the man of business and the politician. Aristotle wrote 322 years before the birth of Christ, and his works are monuments of practical wisdom. When we consider the period during which he lived, and the isolated nature of his labours, and compare them with the information which he possessed, we are astonished at his sagacity and the great scope and general accuracy of his knowledge. Pliny, 240 years later, lived in times more favourable for the cultivation of science; but with all his advantages made little improvement on the work of the great master. And then, later still, the sun of learning set; and there came over Europe the long night of the dark ages which succeeded Roman greatness, during which science was degraded and ignorance prevailed; and it is not till the middle of the sixteenth century, that the zoologist finds much to interest and instruct him. When we further reflect, that until within the past five and twenty years—till our large aquaria were constructed—Aristotle's knowledge of the habits and life-history of marine animals, and amongst them the cephalopods, was incomparably greater and more perfect than that possessed by any man who had lived since he recorded his observations, we cannot help feeling that in some departments of knowledge there is still lost ground to be recovered.
In the old days of the Cæsars, a Greek or Roman house-wife who was accustomed to see the cuttle, the squid, and the octopus daily exposed for sale in the markets, would of course have laughed at the idea of mistaking the one for the other; but there are comparatively few persons in our own country, at the present day, except those who have made marine zoology their study, whose ideas on the subject are not exceedingly hazy. This want of technical knowledge is not confined to the masses; but is common, if not general, amongst those who have been well educated, and is frequently apparent even in leaders in the daily papers—the productions, for the most part, of men of receptive minds, trained discrimination, and great general knowledge. As the subject is one in which I have long felt especial interest, I venture to hope that I may succeed in making clear the difference between the eight-footed octopus and its ten-footed relatives, and thus enable the reader to identify the member of the family from which we are to strip the dress and "make up" in which it masqueraded as the Kraken, and cause it to appear in its true and natural form.
One of the great primary groups or divisions of the animal kingdom is that of the soft-bodied mollusca; which includes the cuttle, the oyster, the snail, &c. It has been separated into five "classes," of which the one we have especially to notice is the Cephalopoda, others have, in addition to the eight feet, lobes, or arms, two longer tentacular appendages, making ten in all, and are consequently called the Decapoda.
Of the ten-footed section of the cephalopods, there are four "families;" two only of which exist in Britain—the Teuthidæ, and the Sepiidæ. The Teuthidæ are the Calamaries, popularly known as "Squids," and are represented by the long-bodied Loligo vulgaris, that has internally along its back a gristly, translucent stiffener, shaped like a quill-pen; from which and its ink it derives its names of "calamary" (from "calamus," a "pen"), "pen-and-ink fish," and "sea-clerk." The Sepiidæ are generally known as the Cuttles proper. As a type of them we may take the common "cuttle-fish," Sepia officinalis, the owner of the hard, calcareous shell often thrown up on the shore, and known as "cuttle-bone," or "sea-biscuit."
It must here be remarked, that as these head-footed mollusks are not "fish," any more than lobsters, crabs, oysters, mussels, &c., which fishmongers call "shell-fish," are "fish," the word "fish" is misleading, and should be abandoned; and secondly, that the names "cuttle" and "squid," as distinctive appellations, are unsatisfactory. The word "cuttle" is derived from "cuddle," to hug, or embrace—in allusion to the manner in which the animal seizes its prey, and enfolds it in its arms; and "squid" is derived from "squirt," in reference to its habit of squirting water or ink. But as all the known members of the class, except the pearly nautilus, Nautilus pompilius, have these habits in common, the distinguishing terms are hardly apposite. As, however, they are conventionally accepted and understood, I prefer to use them. As with other mollusks, so with the cephalopods, some have shells, and some are naked or have only rudimentary shells. The Argonaut, or paper nautilus, has been regarded as the analogue of the snail, which, like it, secretes an external shell for the protection of its soft body; and the octopus as that of the garden slug, which, having organs like those of the snail, as the octopus has organs like those of the shell-bearing argonaut, has no shell. The cuttles and squids may be compared to some of the sea-slugs, as Aplysia and Bullæa, and to some land-slugs, as Parmacella and Limax, which have an internal shell.
The argonaut and the other families of the cephalopods do not come within the scope of this treatise; we will therefore confine our attention to the three above mentioned. Of the anatomy and homology of the Octopus, Sepia, and Calamary we need say no more than will suffice to show in what manner they resemble each other, and wherein they differ, in order that we may the more clearly perceive to which of them the story of the Kraken probably owes its origin.
The octopus, the sepia, and the calamary are all constructed on one fundamental plan. A bag of fleshy muscular skin, called the mantle-sac, contains the organs of the body, heart, stomach, liver, intestines, a pair of gills by which oxygen is absorbed from the water for the purification means of the communication between the ink-bag and the locomotor tube, it happens that when the ink is ejected, a stream of water is forcibly emitted with it, and thus the very effort for escape serves the double purpose of propelling the creature away from danger, and discolouring the water in which it moves. Oppian has well described this—
Professor Owen has remarked that the ejection of the ink of the cephalopods serves by its colour as a means of defence, as corresponding secretions in some of the mammalia by their odour.
It is worthy of notice that the pearly nautilus and the allied fossil forms are without this means of concealment, which their strong external shells render unnecessary for their protection.
From the sac-like body containing the various organs, protrudes a head, globose in shape, and containing a brain, and furnished with a pair of strong, horny mandibles, which bite vertically, like the beak of a parrot. By these the flesh of prey is torn and partly masticated, and within them lies the tongue, covered with recurved and retractile teeth, like that of its distant relatives, the whelk, limpet, &c., by which the food is conducted to the gullet. Around this head is, as I have said, the organ which is equivalent to the foot in other molluscs—that by which the slug and the snail crawl—only that the head is placed in the centre, instead of in the front of it, and it is divided into segments, which radiate from this central head. These segments are very flexible, and capable of movement in every direction, and are thus developed into arms, prehensile limbs, by which their owner can seize and hold its living prey. That this may be more perfectly accomplished, these arms are studded along their inner surface with rows of sucking discs, in each of which, by means of a retractile piston, a vacuum can be produced. The consequent pressure of the outer atmosphere or water, causes them to adhere firmly to any substance to which they are applied, whether stone, fish, crustacean, or flesh of man.
But, although in all these highly-organised head-footed mollusks the same general build prevails, it is admirably modified in each of them to suit certain habits and necessities. Thus the octopus, being a shore dweller, its soft and pliant, but very tough body, having merely a very small and rudimentary indication of an internal shell (just a little "style") is exactly adapted for wedging itself amongst crevices of rocks. A large, rigid, cellular float, or "sepiostaire," such as Sepia possesses, or a long, horny pen such as Loligo has, would be in the way, and worse than useless in such places as the octopus inhabits. Its eight long powerful arms or feet are precisely fitted for clambering over rocks and stones, and as its food of course consists principally of the living things most abundant in such localities, namely, the shore-crabs, its great flexible suckers, devoid of hooks or horny armature, are exactly adapted to firm and air-tight attachment to the smooth shells of the crustacea.
Unlike the octopus, which is capable only of short flights through the water, the "cuttles" and "squids," such as a fish or crustacean as strong as a good sized shore-crab. But, as compensation for the shortness of the eight arms, they are provided with two others more than three times the length of the short ones. These are so slender that they generally lie coiled up in a spiral cone in two pockets, one on each side, just below the eye, when the animal is quiescent, and are only seen when it takes its food. These long, slender tentacular arms are expanded at their extremity, and the inner surface of their enlarged part is studded with suckers—some of them larger in size than those on the eight shorter arms. As the food of these swimmers consists, of course, chiefly of fish, their sucking disks are curiously modified for the better retention of a slippery captive. A horny ring with a sharply serrated edge is imbedded in the outer circumference of each of them, and when a vacuum is formed, the keen, saw-like teeth are pressed into the skin or scales of the unfortunate prisoner, and deprive it of the slightest chance of escape.
The manner in which the eight-armed and ten-armed cephalopods capture their prey is similar in principle and plan, but differs in action in accordance with their mode of life. The ordinary habit of the octopus is either to rest suspended to the side of a rock to which it clings with the suckers of several of its arms, or to remain lurking in some favourite cranny; its body thrust for protection and concealment well back in the interior of the recess; its bright eyes keenly on the watch; three or four of its limbs firmly attached to the walls of its hiding place—the others gently waving, gliding, and feeling about in the water, as if to maintain its vigilance, and keep itself always on the alert, and in readiness to pounce on any unfortunate wayfarer that may pass near its den. To a shore-crab that comes within its reach the slightest contact with one of those lithe arms is fatal. Instantaneously as pull of trigger brings down a bird, or touch of electric wire explodes a torpedo or a mining fuse, the pistons of the series of suckers are simultaneously drawn inward, the air is removed from the pneumatic holders, and a vacuum created in each: the crab tries to escape, but in a second is completely pinioned: not a movement, not a struggle is possible; each leg, each claw is grasped all over by suckers, enfolded in them, stretched out to its fullest extent by them; the back of the carapace is completely covered by the tenacious disks, brought together by the adaptable contractions of the limb, and ranged in close order, shoulder to shoulder, touching each other; and the pressure of the air is so great that nothing can effect the relaxation of their retentive power but the destruction of the air-pump that works them, or the closing of the throttle-valve by which they are connected with it. Meanwhile the abdominal plates of the captive crab are dragged towards the mouth; the black tip of the hard horny beak is seen for a single instant protruding from the circular orifice in the centre of the radiation of the arms; and, the next, has crushed through the shell, and is buried deep in the flesh of the victim.
Unlike the skulking, hiding octopus, its ten-armed relative, the Sepia loves the daylight and the freedom of the upper water. Its predatory acts are not those of a concealed and ambushed brigand lying in wait behind a rock, or peeping furtively from within the gloomy shadow of a cave; but it may better be compared to the war-like Comanche vidette seated gracefully on his horse, and scanning from some elevated knoll a wide expanse of prairie, in readiness to swoop upon a weak or unarmed foe. Poised near the surface of the water, like a hawk in the air, the Sepia moves gently to and fro by graceful undulations of This action of the tentacles of the decapods is the most rapid motion that I know of in the whole animal kingdom—not excepting even that of the tongue of the toad and the lizard. These long tentacles are not used when the food is within reach of the shorter arms.
The calamaries or squids of our British Seas seize their prey in the same manner as Sepia, and the description of one will suffice for both. But there exist two groups of them, which are armed with curved and sharp-pointed hooks or claws, either in addition to, or instead of suckers. In the one group (Onychoteuthis), the hooks are restricted to the extremities of the pair of tentacles, in the other (Enoploteuthis), both the tentacles and the shorter arms have hooks. Professor Owen, in his description of these hook-armed calamaries in the Cyclopædia of Anatomy, notices also another structure which adds greatly to their prehensile power (Fig. 4.). "At the extremity of the long tentacles a cluster of small, simple, unarmed suckers may be observed at the base of the expanded part. When these latter suckers are applied to one another the tentacles are securely locked together at that part, and the united strength of both the elongated peduncles can be applied to drag towards the mouth any resisting object which has been grappled by the terminal hooks. There is no mechanical contrivance which surpasses this structure; art has remotely imitated it in the fabrication of the obstetrical forceps, in which either blade can be used separately, or, by the inter-locking of a temporary blade, be made to act in combination."
The cephalopods obtain and eat their food very much like the rapacious birds. They are the falcons of the sea. Some of them, like Onychoteuthis, strike their prey with talons and suckers also, others lay hold of it with suckers alone; but they all tear the flesh with their beaks, and swallow and digest their food in the same manner as the hawk or vulture.
The Sepia, the owner of the broad, flattened bone, has a decided predilection for the vicinity of the shore, and for comparatively shallow water. It there attaches its grape-like eggs to some convenient stone or growing alga, and delights occasionally to sink to the bottom, and there to rest half covered by the sand, a habit for which the form of its body is well adapted. But the calamaries—they of the horny pen—prefer the wide waters of the open ocean; and although they, too, especially the smaller species, are common upon the coasts, they are frequently met with far out at sea, and away from any land. The elongated and almost arrow-like shape of their bodies enables them to glide through the water with great rapidity, and the momentum exerted by a vigorous out-rush from their syphon-tube is sometimes so great that when the opposite pressure thus produced is so exerted as to cause them to take an upward direction they leap out of the water to so great a height as to fall on the decks of ships; and are, therefore, called by sailors, "flying squids." Their spawn is very different from that of either octopus, or sepia. It consists of dozens of semi-transparent, gelatinous, slender, cylindrical sheaths, about four or five inches long, each containing many ova imbedded in it (making a total number of about 40,000 embryos), all springing from a common centre and resembling a mop without a handle. I have never seen any of these "sea-mops" attached to anything, and the pelagic habits of the calamaries render it probable that they are left floating on the surface of the sea.
Having made ourselves acquainted with the structure and habits of these three divisions of the eight-footed and ten-footed mollusks, let us take evidence as to the size to which they are respectively known to attain, and the degree in which they may be regarded as dangerous to man.
An octopus from our own coasts having arms two feet in length may be considered a rather large specimen; and Dr. J. E. Gray, who was always most kindly ready to place at the disposal of any sincere inquirer the vast store of knowledge laid up in his wonderful memory, told me that "there is not one in the British Museum which exceeds this size, or which would not go into a quart pot—body, arms and all." The largest British specimen I have hitherto seen had arms 2 ft. 6 in. long. We have sufficient evidence, however, that it exceeds this in the South of France, and along the Spanish and Italian coasts of the Mediterranean; and my deceased friend John Keast Lord tells us in his book, 'The Naturalist in British Columbia,' that he saw and measured, in Vancouver's Island, an octopus which had arms five feet long.
I have often been asked whether an octopus of the ordinary size can really be dangerous to bathers. Decidedly, "Yes," in certain situations. The holding power of its numerous suckers is enormous. It is almost impossible forcibly to detach it from its adhesion to a rock or the flat bottom of a tank; and if a large one happened to fix one or more of its strong, tough arms on the leg of a swimmer whilst the others held firmly to a rock, I doubt if the man could disengage himself under water by mere strength, before being exhausted. Fortunately the octopus can be made to relax its hold by grasping it tightly round the "throat" (if I may so call it), and it may be well that this should be known.
That men are occasionally drowned by these creatures is, unhappily, a fact too well attested. I have elsewhere related several instances of this having occurred. Omitting those, I will give two or three others which have since come under my notice. Sir Grenville Temple, in his 'Excursions in the Mediterranean Sea,' tells how a Sardinian captain, whilst bathing at Jerbeh, was seized and drowned by an octopus. When his body was found, his limbs were bound together by the arms of the animal; and this took place in water only four feet deep.
Mr. J. K. Lord's account of the formidable strength of these creatures in Oregon is confirmed by an incident recorded in the Weekly Oregonian (the principal paper of Oregon) of October 6th, 1877. A few days before that date an Indian woman, whilst bathing, was held beneath the surface by an octopus, and drowned. The body was discovered on the following day in the horrid embrace of the creature. Indians dived down and with their knives severed the arms of the octopus and recovered the corpse.
Mr. Clemens Laming, in his book, 'The French in Algiers,' writes:—"The soldiers were in the habit of bathing in the sea every evening, and from time to time several of them disappeared—no one knew how. Bathing was, in consequence, strictly forbidden; in spite of which several men went into the water one evening. Suddenly one of them screamed for help, and when several others rushed to his assistance they found that an octopus had seized him by the leg by four of its arms whilst it clung to the rock with the rest. The soldiers brought the 'monster' home with them, and out of revenge they boiled it alive and ate it. This adventure accounted for the disappearance of the other soldiers."
The Rev. W. Wyatt Gill, who for more than a quarter of a century has resided as a missionary amongst the inhabitants of the Hervey Islands, and with whom I had the pleasure of conversing on this subject when he was in England in 1875, described in the Leisure Hour of April 20th, 1872, another mode of attack by which an octopus might deprive a man of life. A servant of his went diving for "poulpes" (octopods), leaving his son in charge of the canoe. After a short time he rose to the surface, his arms free, but his nostrils and mouth completely covered by a large octopus. If his son had not promptly torn the living plaister from off his face he must have been suffocated—a fate which actually befell some years previously a man who foolishly went diving alone.
In Appleton's American Journal of Science and Art, January 31st, 1874, a correspondent describes an attack by an octopus on a diver who was at work on the wreck of a sunken steamer off the coast of Florida. The man, a powerful Irishman, was helpless in its grasp, and would have been drowned if he had not been quickly brought to the surface; for when dragged on to the raft from which he had descended, he fainted, and his companions were unable to pull the creature from its hold upon him until they had dealt it a sharp blow across its baggy body.
A similar incident occurred to the government diver of the colony of Victoria, Australia. Whilst pursuing his avocation in the estuary of the river Moyne he was seized by an octopus. He killed it by striking it with an iron bar, and brought to shore with him a portion of it with the arms more than three feet long.
Mr. Laurence Oliphant, in his 'China and Japan,' describes a Japanese show, which consisted of "a series of groups of figures carved in wood, the size of life, and as cleverly coloured as Madame Tussaud's wax-works. One of these was a group of women bathing in the sea. One of them had been caught in the folds of a cuttle-fish; the others, in alarm, were escaping, leaving their companion to her fate. The cuttle-fish was represented on a huge scale, its eyes, eyelids, and mouth being made to move simultaneously by a man inside the head."
An attack of this kind is most artistically represented in a small Japanese ivory-carving in the possession of Mr. Bartlett, of the Zoological Gardens.
The Japanese are well acquainted with the octopus; for it is commonly depicted on their ornaments, and forms no unimportant item in their fisheries.
I have recently had an opportunity of inspecting a most curious Japanese book, in the possession of my friend Mr. W. B. Tegetmeier, which is chiefly devoted to the representations of the fisheries and fish-curing processes of the country. It is in three volumes, and is entitled, 'Land and Sea Products,' by Ki Kone. It is evidently ancient, for it is slightly worm-eaten, but the plates, each 12 inches by
The octopus, therefore, though not abundant on our own coasts, is found in every sea in the temperate zone; and in so far as that it secretes an ink with which it can render the water turbid, and has many radiating arms with which it can seize and drown a man, it possesses certain attributes of the Kraken; but we have no authentic knowledge of its ever attaining to greater dimensions than I have stated, nor does it bask on the surface of the sea. It is not amongst the Octopidæ therefore that we must look for a solution of the mystery.
The basking condition is fulfilled by the Sepia; and its flattened back, supported and rendered hard and firm to the touch by the calcareous sepiostaire beneath the skin, is broader in proportion than that of the octopus or the squid. Thus Sepia might pass as a microscopic miniature of the great Scandinavian monster. But it lacks the character of size. We have no reason to believe that any true Sepia exists, as the family is now understood, that has a body more than eighteen inches long. If it were otherwise it would be more likely to be known of this family than of its relatives, for its lightly constructed and well known "cuttle-bone" would float on the surface for many weeks after the death of its owner, and large specimens of it would be seen and recognised from passing ships.
As we can find no species of the Octopidæ or Sepiidæ which can furnish a pretext for the stories told of the Kraken, we must try to ascertain how far a similitude to it may be traced in the third family we have discussed, the Teuthidæ.
The belief in the existence of gigantic cuttles is an ancient one. Aristotle mentions it, and Pliny tells of an enormous polypus which at Carteia, in Grenada—an old and important Roman colony near Gibraltar—used to come out of the sea at night, and carry off and devour salted tunnies from the curing depots on the shore; and adds that when it was at last killed, the head of it (they used to call the body the head, because in swimming it goes in advance) was found to weigh 700 lbs. Ælian records a similar incident, and describes his monster as crushing in its arms the barrels of salt fish to get at the contents. These two must have been octopods if they were anything; the word "polypus" thus especially designates it, and moreover, the free-swimming cuttles and squids would be helpless if stranded on the shore. Some of the old writers seem to have aimed rather at making their histories sensational than at carefully investigating the credibility or the contrary of the highly coloured reports brought to them. These were, of course, gross exaggerations, but there was generally a substratum of truth in them. They were based on the rare occurrence of specimens, smaller certainly, but still enormous, of some known species, and in most cases the worst that can be said of their authors is that they were culpably careless and foolishly credulous.
Unhappily so lenient a judgment cannot be passed on some comparatively recent writers. Denys de Montfort, half a century later than Pontoppidan, not only professed to believe in the Kraken, but also in the existence of another gigantic animal distinct from it; a colossal poulpe, or octopus, compared with which Pliny's was a mere pigmy. In a drawing fitter to decorate the outside of a showman's caravan at a fair than seriously to illustrate a work on natural history, that one of the great victories of the British navy was converted into a disaster by the monsters which are the subject of his history. He boldly asserted that the six men-of-war captured from the French by Admiral Rodney in the West Indies on the 12th of April, 1782, together with four British ships detached from his fleet to convoy the prizes, were all suddenly engulphed in the waves on the night of the battle under such circumstances as showed that the catastrophe was caused by colossal cuttles, and not by a gale or any ordinary casualty.
Unfortunately for De Montfort, the inexorable logic of facts not only annihilates his startling theory, but demonstrates the reckless falsity of his plausible statements. The captured vessels did not sink on the night of the action, but were all sent to Jamaica to refit, and arrived there safely. Five months afterwards, however, a convoy of nine line-of-battle ships (amongst which were Rodney's prizes), one frigate, and about a hundred merchantmen, were dispersed, whilst on their voyage to England, by a violent storm, during which some of them unfortunately foundered. The various accidents which preceded the loss of these vessels was related in evidence to the Admiralty by the survivors, and official documents prove that De Montfort's fleet-destroying poulpe was an invention of his own, and had no part whatever in the disaster that he attributed to it.
I have been told, but cannot vouch for the truth of the report, that De Montfort's propensity to write that which was not true culminated in his committing forgery, and that he died in the galleys. But he records a statement of Captain Jean Magnus Dens, said to have been a respectable and veracious man, who, after having made several voyages to China as a master trader, retired from a seafaring life and lived at Dunkirk. He told De Montfort that in one of his voyages, whilst crossing from St. Helena to Cape Negro, he was becalmed, and took advantage of the enforced idleness of the crew to have the vessel scraped and painted. Whilst three of his men were standing on planks slung over the side, an enormous cuttle rose from the water, and threw one of its arms around two of the sailors, whom it tore away, with the scaffolding on which they stood. With another arm it seized the third man, who held on tightly to the rigging, and shouted for help. His shipmates ran to his assistance, and succeeded in rescuing him by cutting away the creature's arm with axes and knives, but he died delirious on the following night. The captain tried to save the other two sailors by killing the animal, and drove several harpoons into it; but they broke away, and the men were carried down by the monster.
The arm cut off was said to have been twenty-five feet long, and as thick as the mizen-yard, and to have had on it suckers as big as saucepan-lids. I believe the old sea-captain's narrative of the incident to be true; the dimensions given by De Montfort are wilfully and deliberately false. The belief in the power of the cuttle to sink a ship and devour her crew is as widely spread over the surface of the globe, as it is ancient in point of time. I have been told by a friend that he saw in a shop in China a picture of a cuttle embracing a junk, apparently of about 300 tons burthen, and helping itself to the sailors, as one picks gooseberries off a bush.
Traditions of a monstrous cuttle attacking and destroying ships are current also at the present day in the Polynesian Islands. Mr. Gill, the missionary previously quoted, tells us that the natives of Aitutaki, in the Hervey group, have a legend of a famous explorer, named Rata, who built a double canoe, decked and rigged it, and then started off in quest of adventures. At the prow was stationed the dauntless Nganaoa, armed with a long spear and ready to slay all monsters. One day when speeding pleasantly over the ocean, the voice of the ever vigilant Nganaoa was heard: "O Rata! yonder is a terrible enemy starting up from ocean depths." It proved to be an octopus (query, squid?) of extraordinary dimensions. Its huge tentacles encircled the vessel in their embrace, threatening its instant destruction. At this critical moment Nganaoa seized his spear, and fearlessly drove it through the head of the creature. The tentacles slowly relaxed, and the dead monster floated off on the surface of the ocean.
Passing from the early records of the appearance of cuttles of unusual size, and the current as well as the traditional belief in their existence by the inhabitants of many countries, let us take the testimony of travellers and naturalists who have a right to be regarded as competent observers. In so doing we must bear in mind that until Professor Owen propounded the very clear and convenient classification now universally adopted, the squids, as well as the eight-footed Octopidæ, were all grouped under the title of Sepia.
Pernetty, describing a voyage made by him in the years 1763-4, mentions gigantic cuttles met with in the Southern Seas.
Shortly afterwards, during the first week in March 1769, Banks and Solander, the scientific fellow-voyagers with Lieutenant Cook (afterwards the celebrated Captain Cook), in H.M.S. Endeavour, found in the North Pacific, in latitude 38° 44´ S. and longitude 110° 33´ W., a large calamary which had just been killed by the birds, and was floating in a mangled condition on the water. Its arms were furnished, instead of suckers, with a double row of very sharp talons, which resembled those of a cat, and, like them, were retractable into a sheath of skin from which they might be thrust at pleasure. Of this cuttle they say, with evident pleasurable remembrance of a savoury meal, they made one of the best soups they ever tasted. Professor Owen tells us, in the paper already referred to, that when he was curator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, and preparing, in 1829, his first catalogue thereof, he was struck with the number of oceanic invertebrates which Hunter had obtained. He learned from Mr. Clift that Hunter had supplied Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) Banks with stoppered bottles containing alcohol, in which to preserve the new marine animals that he might meet with during the circumnavigatory voyage about to be undertaken by Cook. Thinking it probable that Banks might have stowed some parts of this great hook-armed squid in one of these bottles for his anatomical friend, he searched for, and found in a bottle marked "J. B.," portions of its arms, the beak with tongue, a heart ventricle, &c., and, amongst the dry preparations, the terminal part of the body, with an attached pair of rhomboidal fins. The remainder had furnished Cook and his companions Banks and Solander with a welcome change of diet in the commander's cabin of the Endeavour. As the inner surface of the arms of the squid, as well as the terminals of its tentacles, were studded with hooks, Professor Owen named it Enoploteuthis Cookii. He estimates the diameter of the tail fin at 15 inches, the length of its body 3 feet, of its head 10 inches, of the shorter arms 16 inches, and of the longer tentacles about the same as its body—thus giving a total length of about 6 ft. 9 in. Although individuals of other species, of larger dimensions, are known to have existed, this is the largest specimen of the hook-armed calamaries that has been scientifically examined. It would have been a formidable antagonist to a man under circumstances favourable to the exertion of its strength, and the use of its prehensile and lacerating talons.
Peron, the well-known French zoologist, mentions having seen at sea, in 1801, not far from Van Diemen's Land, at a very little distance from his ship, Le Géographe, a "Sepia," of the size of a barrel, rolling with noise on the waves; its arms, between 6 and 7 feet long, and 6 or 7 inches in diameter at the base, extended on the surface, and writhing about like great snakes. He recognised in this, and no doubt correctly, one of the calamaries. The arms that he saw were evidently the animal's shorter ones, as under such circumstances, with neither enemy to combat nor prey to seize at the moment, the longer tentacles would remain concealed.
Quoy and Gaimard report that in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Equator, they found the remains of an enormous calamary, half eaten by the sharks and birds, which could not have weighed less, when entire, than 200 lbs. A portion of this was secured, and is preserved in the Museum of Natural History, Paris.
Captain Sander Rang records having fallen in with, in mid-ocean, a species distinct from the others, of a dark red colour, having short arms, and a body the size of a hogshead.
In a manuscript by Paulsen (referred to by Professor Steenstrup, at a meeting of Scandinavian naturalists at Copenhagen in 1847) is a description of a large calamary, cast ashore on the coast of Zeeland, which the latter named Architeuthis monachus. Its body measured 21 feet, and its tentacles 18 feet, making a total of 39 feet.
In 1854 another was stranded at the Skag in Jutland, which Professor Steenstrup believed to belong to the same genus as the preceding, but to be of a different species, and called it Architeuthis dux. The body was cut in pieces by the fishermen for bait, and furnished many wheelbarrow loads. Mr. Gwyn Jeffreys says Dr. Mörch informed him that the beak of this animal was nine inches long. He adds that another huge cephalopod was stranded in 1860 or 1861, between Hillswick and Scalloway, on the west of Shetland. From a communication received by Professor Allman, it appears that its tentacles were 16 feet long, the pedal arms about half that length, and the mantle sac 7 feet. The largest suckers examined by Professor Allman were three-quarters of an inch in diameter.
We have also the statement of the officers and crew of
These are statements made by men who, by their intelligence, character, and position, are entitled to respect and credence; and whose evidence would be accepted without question or hesitation in any court of law. There is, moreover, a remarkable coincidence of particulars in their several accounts, which gives great importance to their combined testimony.
But, fortunately, we are not left dependent on documentary evidence alone, nor with the option of accepting or rejecting, as caprice or prejudice may prompt us, the narratives of those who have told us they have seen what we have not. Portions of cuttles of extraordinary size are preserved in several European museums. In the collection of the Faculty of Sciences at Montpellier is one six feet long, taken by fishermen at Cette, which Professor Steenstrup has identified as Ommastrephes pteropus. One of the same species, which was formerly in the possession of M. Eschricht, who received it from Marseilles, may be seen in the museum at Copenhagen. The body of another, analogous to these, is exhibited in the Museum of Trieste: it was taken on the coast of Dalmatia. At the meeting of the British Association at Plymouth in 1841, Colonel Smith exhibited drawings of the beak and other parts of a very large calamary preserved at Haarlem; and M. P. Harting, in 1860, described in the Memoirs of the Royal Scientific Academy of Amsterdam portions of two extant in other collections in Holland, one of which he believes to be Steenstrup's Architeuthis dux, a species which he regards as identical with Ommastrephes todarus of D'Orbigny.
Still there remained a residuum of doubt in the minds of naturalists and the public concerning the existence of gigantic cuttles 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, as sensationally described by the Rev. M. Harvey, Presbyterian minister of St. John's, Newfoundland, in a letter to Principal Dawson, of McGill College, 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 débris 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 gunwale of the boat, whereupon the animal moved off, and ejected a quantity of inky fluid which darkened the surrounding water for a considerable distance. The men went home, and, as fishermen will, magnified their lost "fish." They "estimated" the body to have been 60 feet in 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."
All this, in the excitement of the moment, Mr. Harvey appears to have been willing to believe, and related without the expression of a doubt. Fortunately, he was able to obtain from the fishermen a portion of one of the tentacular arms which they had chopped off with the axe, and by so doing rendered good service to science. This fragment (Fig. 9), as measured by Mr. Alexander Murray, provincial geologist of Newfoundland, and Professor Verrill, of Yale College, Connecticut, is 17 feet long and 3½ feet in circumference. It is now in St. John's Museum. 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.
In November, 1873—about three weeks after the occurrence in Conception Bay—another calamary somewhat smaller than the preceding, but of the same species, also came into Mr. Harvey's possession. Three fishermen, when hauling their herring-net in Logie Bay, about three miles from St. John's, found the huge animal entangled in its folds. With great difficulty they succeeded in despatching it and bringing it ashore, having been compelled to cut off its head before they could get it into their boat.
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.
Excellent woodcuts from photographs of these two specimens were given in the Field of December 13th, 1873, and January 31st, 1874, respectively, and I am indebted to the proprietors of that journal for their kind and courteous permission to copy them in reduced size for the illustration of this little work.
For the preservation of both of the above described specimens we have to thank Mr. Harvey, and he produces additional evidence of other gigantic cuttles having been previously seen on the coast of Newfoundland. He mentions two especially, which, as stated by the Rev. Mr. Gabriel, were cast ashore in the winter of 1870-71, near Lamaline on the south coast of the island, which measured respectively 40 feet and 47 feet in length; and he also tells of another stranded two years later, the total length of which was 80 feet.
In the American Journal of Science and Arts, of March 1875, Professor Verrill gives particulars and authenticated testimony of several other examples of great calamaries, varying in total length from 30 feet to 52 feet, which have been taken in the neighbourhood of Newfoundland since the year 1870. One of these was found floating, apparently dead, near the Grand Banks in October 1871, by Captain Campbell, of the schooner B. D. Hoskins, of Gloucester, Mass. It was taken on board, and part of it used for bait. The body is stated to have been 15 feet long, and the pedal or shorter arms between 9 feet and 10 feet. The beak was forwarded to the Smithsonian Institution.
Another instance given by Professor Verrill is of a great squid found alive in shallow water in Coomb's Cove, Fortune Bay, in the year 1872. Its measurements, taken by the Hon. T. R. Bennett, of English Harbour, Newfoundland, were, length of body 10 feet; length of tentacle 42 feet; length of one of the ordinary arms 6 feet: the cups on the tentacles were serrated. Professor Verrill also mentions a pair of jaws and two suckers in the Smithsonian Institution, as having been received from the Rev. A. Munn, with a statement that they were taken from a calamary which went ashore in Bonavista Bay, and which measured 32 feet in total length.
On the 22nd of September, 1877, another gigantic squid was stranded at Catalina, on the north shore of Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, during a heavy equinoctial gale. It was alive when first seen, but died soon after the ebbing of the tide, and was left high and dry upon the beach. Two fishermen took possession of it, and the whole settlement gathered to gaze in astonishment at the monster. Formerly it would have been converted into manure, or cut up as food for dogs, but, thanks to the diffusion of intelligence, there were some persons in Catalina who knew the importance of preserving such a rarity, and who advised the fishermen to take it to St. John's. After being exhibited there for two days, it was packed in half-a-ton of ice in readiness for transmission to Professor Verrill, in the hope that it would be placed in the Peabody or Smithsonian Museum; but at the last moment its owners violated their agreement, and sold it to a higher bidder. The final purchase was made for the New York Aquarium, where it arrived on the 7th of October, immersed in methylated spirit in a large glass tank. Its measurements were as follows:—length of body 10 feet; length of tentacles 30 feet; length of shorter arm 11 feet; circumference of body 7 feet; breadth of caudal fin 2 feet 9 inches; diameter of largest tentacular sucker 1 inch; number of suckers on each of the shorter arms 250.
The appearance of so many of these great squids on the shores of Newfoundland during the term of seven years, and after so long a period of popular uncertainty as to their very existence had previously elapsed, might lead one to suppose that the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean which wash the north-eastern coasts of the American Continent were, at any rate, temporarily, their principal habitat, especially as a smaller member of their family, Ommastrephes sagittatus, is there found in such extraordinary numbers that it furnishes the greater part of the bait used in the Newfoundland cod fisheries. But that they are by no means confined to this locality is proved by recent instances, as well as by those already cited.
Dr. F. Hilgendorf records observations of a huge squid exhibited for mo
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