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England’s Architeuthis

Only two Giant squid have ever been washed ashore in England. Although half-a-dozen have come ashore in Scotland and Ireland or been caught in nets in the North Sea, the tale of England’s Architeuthis is a curious one.

Early on 14 January 1933, a group of bathers spotted a rather strange, inert shape on the shore of Southside beach and close to the Aquarium, at the seaside resort of Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast. Unwittingly they had found themselves face to face with a dead Architeuthis. Word spread quickly, and not long afterwards Alderman Mr. Thomas Whitehead, Chairman of the Scarborough Harbour Commissioners, arrived, and secured and protected the specimen. Almost half the town turned up to be photographed next to the squid.

Architeuthis on beach 1933 CREDIT Scarborough Museums Trust Photo9103a.jpg

[Fig 1: Architeuthis on beach 1933, 1 of 2 -- Scarborough Museums Trust]

Architeuthis on beach 1933 CREDIT Scarborough Museums Trust Photo9107a.jpg

[Fig 2: Architeuthis on beach 1933, 2 of 2 -- Scarborough Museums Trust]

A local Scarborough naturalist, Mr. William James Clarke, also made haste to the shore to examine this remarkable sight. Clarke noted this beast to be the largest squid of he was aware to have ever come ashore in Britain. Even though it measured a staggering 17' 5" in length, it was incomplete—the tips of the two feeding tentacles were missing, and so too were the beaks. Presumably someone had removed them as souvenirs, or worse, bait, or perhaps to even try and cook them, in the early hours of the morning before its discovery by the bathers. He retrieved a couple of the toothed rings lining the suckers along the arms for the Scarborough museum, then wired the British Museum of Natural History in Kensington to ask if they wanted the specimen. Not long afterwards, not surprisingly, Clarke and Whitehead found themselves organizing a lorry to have the specimen transported to London.

WJ Clarke with Ommastrephes at Yorkshire CREDIT Scarborough Museums Trust Clarke,.jpg

[Fig 3: WJ Clarke with Ommastrephes at Yorkshire CREDIT Scarborough Museums Trust Clarke]

Architeuthis sucker CREDIT Scarborough Museums Trust  2020.JPG

[Fig 4: Architeuthis sucker CREDIT Scarborough Museums Trust]

Eagerly awaiting its arrival was Guy Coburn Robson, Deputy Keeper of the Department of Zoology, who noted immediately that crucial body parts were missing. Desperate to retrieve them, the Museum then contacted the BBC and literally begged for them to broadcast an appeal for their return. While broadcasting about lost property and animals was strictly against the BBC principles, it relented given the scientific importance of the specimen, and on 16 January they broadcast an appeal requesting the return of the missing squid-bits.

Guy Coburn Robson CREDIT Proceedings of The Malacological Society Vol 22

[Fig 5: Guy Coburn Robson -- Proceedings of The Malacological Society Vol 22]

Robson also released a statement to the written press, declared this to be the most southerly specimen yet found in British waters.

"It seems certain that this squid must have come into the North Sea with the influx of Atlantic water, but whether the squid comes south in search of food or to change his habitation cannot yet be confirmed" he stated. He estimated the squid would have been about 20ft in length if complete.

Dr. Charles Tate Regan, the keeper of Zoology and director of the museum, added “The squid is apparently of a very rare type but the most valuable evidence as to its species is the tips of the long tentacles.”

The initial appeal yielded no results. A further statement was released on 19 January:

“We are anxious to find the missing parts, we still have hopes. It is so unusual for a giant squid to be found on the British coast. There is no record of more than half a dozen being landed in this country. One was at Dunbar, another at Caithness, a third on the Hebrides and a fourth on the West Coast of Ireland. The giant squids congregate, it is believed, off the Grand Bank, Newfoundland. They are fierce and carnivorous. Always when they are thrown up as far east as this, they are dead or comatose.”

Several days later, a young man came forward to announce that he had the jaw. Having been told by a fisherman who had found the carcass earlier that they were to use it as bait, with no concept of its scientific value, he saw no harm in his taking the jaw as a souvenir. Upon hearing the radio appeal he decided to surrender it, passing it to a Mr. J. Appleton, who then posted it to the BMNH in return for the postage.

About a week later the fate of the two tentacles was revealed. A second person, an admitted 'trophy hunter' who refused to give his name, had heard the BBC broadcast and panicked, dumping the clubs into a barrel of fish offal at the port. Not long afterwards they would have been carted to the countryside and used as manure. While these were now lost to science, the main body of the squid was preserved in a tank of alcohol in one of the vaults of the museum, and a body cast made for public exhibition.

Scarborough Archi CREDIT British Museum of Natural History 1933.jpg

[Fig 6: Scarborough Architeuthis CREDIT British Museum of Natural History 1933]

Over ensuing months the squid was extensively studied by Robson, who published his description of it at the end of April. Robson noted anatomical differences with other specimens and drew conclusions as to the distribution of Architeuthis in the North Atlantic based on other records of stranding and captures as far as Newfoundland. Given the shape of the fins and arms, he deemed the squid to be a sluggish animal, and compared it somewhat unfavourably with Sthenoteuthis and other squids that had been caught in the same vicinity. He also declared this specimen the Type of a new species, A. clarkei, named after his friend William James Clarke, who had not only retrieved it, but had provided the museum with numerous other specimens from the Yorkshire coast over the years. This specimen still lies in the bowels of the museum at South Kensington.

A second giant squid washed ashore a few miles to the north at Ravenscar in October 1938. This animal measured 16ft in length, but unfortunately the fisherman who found it, a gentleman known as Shippey, cut it up for bait for his fishing lines. The following January he described it to Clarke as having had ‘a very small tail fin in proportion to its size’ and ‘tentacles as thick as a man’s arm.’ On a positive note, Shippey had kept the beak as a souvenir, which he passed to Clarke who forwarded it to the Natural History Museum. Unfortunately by now Guy Robson had left the BMNH, and the task of confirming the identification was left to Mr. G.J. Crawford. Indeed it was Architeuthis, but Crawford could not positively identify the species from such scant remains.

1938 Architeuithis beak CREDIT W J Clarke The Naturalist 1939.jpg

[Fig. 7: 1938 Architeuithis beak CREDIT W J Clarke The Naturalist 1939]

Since Robson’s review of Architeuthis, the many described species, including his very own clarkei, have been synonymized with dux, the first described species in this genus. It must be borne in mind that these were relatively early days of teuthology, and there were precious few specimens available for study. The scientific contributions of these pioneering researchers such as Guy Robson and his colleagues laid the foundations for our current scientific understanding of cephalopod anatomy and behaviour.

Acknowledgements

Thanks Jim Middleton of the Scarborough Museums Trust for his help in sourcing the images and granting permission to use them. Thanks also to Dr. Steve O’Shea.

Photograph credits

Beach, Clarke and sucker photos: Scarborough Museums Trust

Guy Coburn Robson: The Malacological Society of London

1938 beak: W.J. Clarke, The Naturalist, 1939

Autopsy specimen: G.C. Robson, British Museum of Natural History

Sources

Leeds Mercury 16/01/1933, 19/01/1933 and 21/01/1933

Yorkshire Post 17/01/1933

Hull Daily Mail 20/06/1933

Illustrated London News 21/01/1933

Yorkshire Evening Post 14/01/1933

CLARKE, W.J., The Naturalist, 1939

ROBSON, G.C., On Architeuthis clarkei, a new Species of Giant Squid, with Observations on the Genus, Zoological Department, British Museum (Natural History), 1933.

WALSH, George B, and RIMINGTON, F.C, The Natural History of the Scarborough district, Scarborough Field Naturalists' Society, 1953.


Phil Eyden 23/02/20
Original publish date
Feb 23, 2020
About the Author
Phil
Phil joined the TONMO.com staff in April 2003. He collects fossils as a hobby, frequently plundering a quarry at Folkestone in the U.K. He has a degree in British archaeology and works for a government department at Dover in England.

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