Book review: “The search for the Giant Squid”

22 02 2009

Good tidings and well-wishes!

On a recent post concerning woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), I mentioned that the most famous animals are frequently surrounded by the largest amounts of mis-information and mythology. A textbook example of this may be found in the form of the notorious giant squid (Architeuthis sp): an animal which can reach sixty feet in length, has eyes that are literally the size of dinner plates (approximately 16″ across), and until very recently, had never been observed in its natural habitat. With a creature like this, it’s not hard to start imagining a sea monster.

It’s largely for this reason that I believe Richard Ellis has done a bang-up job chronicling the life and times of these fascinating beasts  in his book, The search for the Giant Squid: The biology and mythology of the world’s most elusive sea creature. Though he devotes an entire chapter to fictional accounts of Architeuthis, he never plays off the idea that the animal is a malevolent kraken elsewhere, and I found this to be very much to his credit. Perhaps the most informative chapter, however, was the one which delivered a crash course in introductory squid anatomy. Though the giant squid is barely mentioned therein, it does an exquisite job of familiarizing the reader with the basic bio-mechanics of unprepared calamari. Other intriguing passages include a thorough discussion of sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) predation on Architeuthis, and many readers will be surprised to learn that while these magnificent odontocetes do in fact prey on these largest of invertebrates, the giant squid actually makes up less than half of a percent of the creature’s total diet.

However, it should be noted that the latest edition of the book was published ten years ago, and thus Ellis had no insight on the capturing of an immature female Architeuthis some 600 miles Southeast of Tokyo back in 2006:

Still, it is a fascinating read by any account. My only criticism is the fact that I believe Ellis spent entirely too much time detailing Architeuthis‘ presence in popular culture and sculpture when he could have provided additional information about its biology or that of other large cephalopods such as the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). This is a minor point, however, and it doesn’t prevent me from recommending The search for the Giant Squidto cephalopod-enthusiasts of all interest levels.

May the fossil record (and the rest of the natural world) continue to enchant us all!

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31 12 2009
My 2009 Booklist « The Theatrical Tanystropheus

[…] Thoughts: This one was another recipient of its own review back in February, and my opinion of it has scarcely changed since then: had Ellis spent more time ‘covering […]

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