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kraken

OLogy Series
anthropology
card
285

kraken

OLogy Series
anthropology

The kraken is a sea monster with long, snakelike arms. This amazing creature may have been inspired by a living animal--the giant squid of the deep ocean. The kraken also tells us something about the minds of sailors long ago. As they ventured across vast oceans for the first time, they must have wondered with fear and awe what creatures lurked below.

In the 1850s, scientists recognized that the kraken was a living animal, the giant squid. One evidence for the giant squid's existence was:

an early photo of a giant squid

sucker marks on sperm whales

deep-sea fossils

Are you right?

Correct!

The giant squid has ferocious battles with sperm whales, and suckers lining its tentacles leave scars on the whale's skin. Other evidence included pieces of tentacles in whale stomachs and sharp beaks found from dead squid that washed ashore.

In Scandinavian legend, the kraken's limbs were so large that when it rose to the surface, its body looked like:

a circle of blue whales

a fleet of ships

a ring of islands

Are you right?

Correct!

In one legend, unsuspecting fisherman were drowned when they mistook a kraken arm for an island. Other tales warned not to get too close when the kraken sank, as a boat could get sucked down in its whirlpool.

Laurel Kendall, anthropologist

This is an example of something real that inspires something exaggerated and mythical. Giant squid are shy creatures and would never aggressively attack a sailing ship.

The kraken was said to have a sharp beak like a parrot's.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

In fact, the living giant squid also has a sharp, parrotlike "beak" which may be used to tear the body of its prey.

Other mythic sea creatures once believed to roam the oceans were the sea cow and the rhinoceros whale.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

People did believe that many sea monsters were modified versions of land animals. One popular 16th-century theory said that every land animal had its counterpart in the ocean.

No squid is larger than the giant squid.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Recently, fisherman in the South Atlantic and Antarctic hooked a squid larger than the 8 known giant squid species. Dubbed "colossal squid," it was classified in a new genus.

Physical features: Many long, flexible arms or tentacles; sharp "beak" like a parrot
First stories: About AD 1180 in Scandinavia
Habitat: Deep ocean near Norway and Iceland
Natural "evidence": pieces of giant squid tentacles and sucker marks on whales
Cool fact: Early sailors also reported seeing sea serpents. But the carcasses and drawings of these appeared to be blacksnakes, basking sharks, oarfish, and even floating seaweed.

Image credits: Sean Murtha; Laurel Kendall: courtesy of AMNH.