Squid Body From Whale Stomach


Apr 6, 2003


As Steve O'Shea has noted in his posts about squid beaks from whale stomachs, it's rare to find an intact giant squid in Physeter's GI tract. I've never seen a photo of such a find, so I was very excited to find the attached image.

Cool Antarctica is a site run by a very sharp fellow named Paul Ward, a marine biologist who did a stint in Antarctica and is now an educator living in England. Paul has made a very fine site, providing an excellent and concise history of whaling operations in Antarctica; his online collection of whaling photographs and ephemera is well worth an extended look. Paul was kind enough to allow me to post the image, and provided the following background information:

The picture was published in Budker 1959 "Whales and Whaling"...The squid in question came from a whale killed off the Azores in July 1955 and according to the book was 34 feet long including tentacles and weighed 405 pounds (which seems a bit heavy to me from the size of it in the picture - though I'm no expert). The book notes that "This is probably the only complete specimen of such an animal to be collected under these conditions", Paul Budker is a well respected scholar, so I'd say his information is probably reliable and accurate.

There is a reference that you will be interested in, which is the source of this information, though I don't know how you could follow it up:

"A giant squid swallowed by a sperm whale" by Robert Clarke. The Norwegian Whaling Gazette, No.10 (1955), pages 589-593.

Robert Clarke has authored or co-authored numerous scientific papers devoted to cetaceans, among them a recent and intriguing sounding work, aquired by NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory, titled "When attacking their prey sperm whales are upside down." (Clarke, Robert and Obla Paliza. 2003. Marine Mammal Science 19(3): 607-608) Does anyone out there have access to these papers?

I've made a few sparsely annotated blow-ups from the photograph. Presumably it's Architeuthis, but there are a few atypical details. The visible remnant of the fins suggest a rather large tail, and the arms appear both shorter and more slight than is the norm for big, mature GS. The eye looks positively enormous.

Also, there's a knife stuck in the squid's mantle.

I owe a big debt of thanks to Paul Ward for posting this image and allowing me to re-post it here, and for providing citations. He's been to TONMO before, and will hopefully check in on this thread. Thanks, Paul!



  • conv_302135.jpg
    45.6 KB · Views: 305
  • conv_302136.jpg
    45.6 KB · Views: 253
  • conv_302137.jpg
    9.4 KB · Views: 239
The weight sounds ok to me, having seen and helped to lift (it took 6 of us), the 275 or 300Kg* giant squid that we had here last year. 405lbs converts to ~184 kilograms.

*I can't remember the exact weight off the top of my head.
The long tail extending to a point past the fins suggests moroteuthis, but as far as I know those are only found in the northern half of the Pacific... plus, the largest, moroteuthis japanicus is reputed to top-out at around 25 feet.
Moroteuthis (or Onykia, depending on which side of the classification debate you stand on) is found in Pacific and Antarctic waters. Divining a species ID from a small photo is a fraught enterprise, and this Azores squid is rather vague looking. The mantle appears to be ventral-side up: the remnant of the fin lies flat on the sand. The head and arms might have been detached/rotated, so it's impossible to assign numbers to the arms with any degree of accuracy. One of the arms seems to show some flattening of the cross-section as it tapers to the distal portion. Does the visible row of suckers look odd to anyone besides me? Rather small and dark, though the coloration might be a post-mortem shift, i.e. chitin given a quick bath in sperm whale stomach juices. I've seen some pics of Architeuthis sucker rings that went from clear to black after being fixed in preservative.

If it's not Architeuthis, I don't know what it might be. The legendary giant Ommastrephid? I'm sure there have been a few spectacular, rare big teuthid finds pulled from whale stomachs, rubber-stamped as "giant squid" and forgotten/discarded.

The knife in the squid's back implies that a field dissection was to be carried out. That, or they just wanted to be sure it was dead.


Clem said:
Moroteuthis (or Onykia, depending on which side of the classification debate you stand on) .....

... I've seen some pics of Architeuthis sucker rings that went from clear to black after being fixed in preservative.

You've been doing your homework, haven't you Clem!

It's an Archi for sure. You found/cited the papers I referred to (but couldn't recall the details of) a couple of days ago. Magic detective work.

Note: no plastic bottles, strapping or other litter on the high-tide mark. Those were the days!
Thanks, Steve, but proper thanks go to Paul Ward for providing the citations on the squid in the photo. As for the Moroteuthis/Onykia divide, 'twas Tintenfisch who alerted me to the current reclassification debate.

Since the squid is on the beach, I'm guessing the whale it came from was dressed out on the beach, in the old days before factory ships removed whale processing to international waters. Gotta find that paper!


...and here's a recent squid carcass from the Azores. The photographer, Joan Ocean, was at sea near Pico Island when she came across this badly damaged specimen. Joan, who generously allowed for the use of her photograph here, had this to say about the find:

It was large and not very decomposed, so we had the feeling the Sperm whale might be nearby, far below. I was very interested in it and wanted to stay around and examine it for a while and wait to see if a Cachalot would surface, but the other people on the boat were ready to move on. I took a few pictures and then of course we left it in the water for the fish and birds.

Only a few features can be positively identified: the tail, mantle and arm stumps. There's a symmetrical, translucent protrusion that could be the anterior end of the squid's gladius, the semi-rigid "pen" inside the mantle, and another visible structure could be what remains of a dislodged eye. Attached below is an enlargement with some features called out.

Big thanks to Joan Ocean for the image and information. She'll be back in the Azores this summer.



  • conv_287818.jpg
    39.3 KB · Views: 289
  • conv_287819.jpg
    39.3 KB · Views: 305

OK Adam, you've well-and-truly got my attention now.

Having gazed at that pic for quite some time (sure beats watching the crap on TV) I can't see anything that I can relate to (Architeuthis wise). As damaged as it is .... it just doesn't look right .... (and actually it is not that damaged). It doesn't look Haliphron (ex Alloposus) like either (fins, if that is what they are, are a bit of a teuthid giveaway). If you can score further pics of this, from a different angle, it would be fantastic. Shame nothing was saved; of course what's going through my head is some form of cranchiid, although the fins just don't look right (Oh to have a specimen of Galiteuthis phyllura ......).

Beaks - that's what we need. Speaking of which, Kat asked today where she can secure (even on loan) beaks of Moroteuthis robusta. If anyone knows anyone with a set, a loan of these would be enormously appreciated (big things happening).
Hello Steve,

What has you thinking cranchiid?

Allowing for foreshortening of perspective, it looks like this squid has a circular/elliptical pair of fins, and a stout mantle. Two very dark patches in the water near the thing look like ink seeping out of the body cavity. Wish we had a reference point for scale.

As for Moroteuthis beak sets, I suppose Kat and yourself could ask the folks at the University of Washington:Moroteuthis Busted While Gnawing Halibut

Or, the folks at the Univeristy of Mississippi: Graduate Student Bags Bering Moroteuthis

Clem said:
Hello Steve,

What has you thinking cranchiid?

Allowing for foreshortening of perspective, it looks like this squid has a circular/elliptical pair of fins, and a stout mantle. Two very dark patches in the water near the thing look like ink seeping out of the body cavity. Wish we had a reference point for scale.

The proportions, even foreshortened, just don't strike me as typical Archi, and the thickness and colour of the arms suggest something extensively gelatinous. It doesn't really have a cranchiid look to it - but I'm at a loss as to what it could be. Many years ago someone forwarded me a picture of a very large squid floating on the surface somewhere tropical .... if only I could remember when that was shot through I could check it against it (and post it here).

Let me dig it out (if I'm lucky).
I'm lucky. Here's a translated transcript of the message (as I received it) from a 'Bruno'. I responded with a tentative identification as Grimalditeuthis (given the rather obvious double fin).

Bruno, I hope that you do not mind my posting your message and photographs.

"Translation :of the E-mail dated Friday January 9th/04
Phil. BOUCHET, from the Museum National of Natural History of Paris , gave to me your references as the main specialiste of giant squids .
During a fishing session , I found at abaout 5km from MOOREA Island (PF) the top part & the tentacules of giant squid . The top part is 1,5 metre . The tentacules 2 metres .On the picture of the top, the white part is a gelatinous skirt ( similar to jelly-fish skin ) and is 1/2 centimeter thick only . The base of the tentacules is cut at the level of the eye , which misses . The hole the eye is about 8 to 9 cm . The tentacules are not kind of ligamentous, as on octopus. But they are gelatinous end with small suckers. I froozed the tentacules for an eventual DNA analysis.

I think the main part of the body has been eaten by a cachalot. The hole & the rip on the "fin" might be made by some large teeth. A fisherman friend of mine has seen a group of cachalots at about 10 Km from here and olso some pieces of big squids.

I hope that the photos and details will allow you to identify this giant squid. I would appreciate that you let me know if it belongs to a know species, and olso does this species wears the 2 long tentacules, end up with suckers? What is estimate of its size and weight .
Can you send to me some drawings or pictures of a specimen of this species ? ; The professor Phil. BOUCHET asked me olso to information .
I thank you by advance .
Sincerely .
Best wishes for 2004 .


  • conv_287820.jpg
    36.1 KB · Views: 169
  • conv_287821.jpg
    35.8 KB · Views: 197
  • conv_287822.jpg
    35.6 KB · Views: 173
... one rather interesting thing to come out of the most recent posts is that in each instance the squid has been extensively damaged by the whale, although we have been led to believe that the whale generally consumes the squid whole (without a tooth mark) [moreover, I have been guilty of perpetuating this myself]. This might not be the case.

One of the interesting things about the stomach content analyses (incomplete ... still so much to do) is that the number of lower and upper beaks does not match. Of course the likelihood of a whale cleaving a squid right through the centre of the buccal bulb is exceedingly remote ... but the number of beaks in a whale stomach need not always reflect the number of squid eaten (when the head was not consumed).

If the whale is even more fussy that we have ever considered before, given the distribution of distasteful ammonium ions throughout the body of these things could well be unequal (as it is in Architeuthis), the whale might chomp the head end (more tasty) and ditch the mantle .

Just thinking aloud (no proof to back it up).

I should dig out some more of these weird pics I get sent.
I had considered this before - maybe the ammoniacal nature of the squid was required to assist with beak regurgitation - but I don't think that this is the case any longer. It is possible that the whale simply eats vast quantities of ammoniacal squid because it doesn't care/mind, because it was an otherwise untapped resource, or perhaps because that was what was available at the particular depth horizon within which the whale fed.

I put out a rather interesting paper a couple of years ago regarding rehabilitating whales and appropriate diet, in conjunction with Charles Manire at MOTE Marine Laboratory, down Sarasota, Florida. Perhaps I should scan it and place it online. Next week; a little R & R is on the schedule this weekend.