The Squid and the Whale: Evidence for an Epic Encounter
[An outline of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Biodiversity is filled with color. In the center, we see the giant Blue Whale hanging from the ceiling of the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. The camera flies toward it.]
JOHN FLYNN (Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals, Division of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History): The squid and sperm whale diorama in the Milstein Hall is really fantastic because it's capturing a battle royale.
[The angle switches to below the belly of the whale. A watercolor painting of the dioramas is revealed. In the corner is a dark diorama with seemingly nothing in it.]
FLYNN: Sometimes you don’t even realize it’s there. You see this dark space on the side of the hall and you're kind of saying, “What's that?”
[Shapes start to appear in the dark diorama: the silhouette of a sperm whale and a giant squid.]
NEIL LANDMAN (Curator, Division of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History): And as you move up to it, your eyes adjust to the light because it’s in the darkness, and you recognize the sperm whale.
[Slowly, the squid and sperm whale are illuminated to show their colors and features.]
FLYNN: You're focused in on the head area and what's actually happening in this moment where the whale's trying to eat the squid and the squid's trying to say, “I don't want to be eaten.”
[On screen a few close-ups of this battle flash by: the squid’s tentacles in the sperm whale’s teeth; the eye of the sperm whale; tentacles of the squid wrapping around the head of the sperm whale.]
LANDMAN: But none of us have ever witnessed this in real life.
[An archival painting of a squid attacking a sperm whale paints itself over the image of the diorama. Text appears: “American Museum of Natural History. The Squid and the Whale: Evidence for an Epic Encounter.” The archival painting disappears, and is replaced by video footage of a label on a box that reads “ARCHITEUTHIDAE”.]
LANDMAN: Architeuthis is the scientific generic name for the giant squid.
[A gloved hand holds a wet label that reads “American Museum of Natural History – Architeuthis kirki.”]
LANDMAN: So it means you know, like archbishop. It’s the biggest squid around.
[The camera zooms on an archival drawing of a giant squid, peering into a porthole of a ship. A watercolor of the giant squid appears and rotates to be lying horizontally.]
LANDMAN: They grow to as long as 60 feet.
[A line measures the squid to be 60 feet long. The camera zooms in on the eye and then another line measures the eye to be 10 inches in diameter.]
LANDMAN: The eyes are the largest in the animal kingdom. They’re referred to as dinner plates.
[The giant squid rotates again and then dissolves into video footage of a giant squid carcass in a large container, with a man looking on above it.]
LANDMAN: Size is, like we often say, is a refuge from predation, because if you get too big, who else is going to pick on you? Squids turn over food and make it into protein very rapidly, so that’s why we call them the broiler chickens of the sea, and they’re such good prey because there are a lot of them.
[Watercolor drawings of small rainbow-colored squids populate the screen. Shadows of dolphins and sharks swim over them.]
LANDMAN: Probably the giant squid has some predators as a juvenile, because it’s growing.
[The camera zooms back to see an illustration of a giant squid towering above them, and then an illustration of a sperm whale above the giant squid.]
LANDMAN: But as an adult it’s hard to think, other than a sperm whale, really what does them in.
[The sperm whale dives offscreen to reveal the skeletonized jaws of a sperm whale. The camera gets a closer shot of the stump-like teeth.]
FLYNN: The sperm whale is the largest toothed predator on the earth's surface.
[The camera pans up a set of mounted sperm whale teeth, which are large and off-white, and rounded at the top.]
FLYNN: Even though it has teeth in the lower jaw—and they're quite large—they don't use that for feeding. They're what's called suction feeders. So, you basically open this large mouth and suck everything in.
[The illustrated sperm whale opens its mouth to suck in a small school of small squids [SLURPING NOISE]. The sperm whale then dives.]
FLYNN: They can dive to depths of 6,500 feet or 2,000 meters.
[A dashed line appears next to the diving sperm whale and reads “6500 feet”.]
FLYNN: That's the equivalent of 4.5 Empire State Buildings one on top of another.
[The silhouette of three Empire State Buildings pass behind the sperm whale. The sperm whale dives below a mass of many undulating small squids.]
FLYNN: They evolved this capacity to seek food in an environment where there are not a lot of other large, predatory competitors.
[The sperm whale then reappears going upwards, slurping up a few squid in its mouth.]
FLYNN: The giant squid represents a very small fraction of the diet for most sperm whales.
[All of the small squid condense to fill the screen, with one lone giant squid occupying the bottom portion of the screen.]
FLYNN: But because they need a lot of energy because they're big, they're very opportunistic. And so, you come across some big meal, you're going to take advantage of it.
[An illustrated giant squid floats in the middle of the screen; an illustrated sperm whale swims in and grabs the squid in its mouth. The squid's tentacles flail up against the head of the sperm whale. The image fades into an archival drawing of a man inspecting a beached giant squid.]
FLYNN: Giant squid were only seen live over the last 10 years or so, so all the evidence that we have of this feeding is from indirect information.
[Two archival photographs of dead giant squids appear: one of just tentacles, and another of a full giant squid being inspected by scientists.]
LANDMAN: If you examine the skin of a sperm whale, you’ll see these large circular rings.
[A piece of sperm whale skin appears on screen with giant circular marks. The marks are re-drawn over with black circles for emphasis.]
[SOUND OF PENCIL ON PAPER]
LANDMAN: And we suspect those are the sucker marks left by the giant squid as it clings to the sperm whale and the two have this ferocious battle together.
[Camera zooms in on a jar in a lab, with two brown and white giant squid beaks inside it. A pair of gloved hands hold the two halves of the squid beak and imitate the motion of the beak opening and closing.]
LANDMAN: In addition, when we look at the stomach contents we discover that the beaks—that is, the biting apparatus of the giant squid—in the sperm whales.
[Over the real video footage of the gloved hands holding the beak, a drawing of a squid beak is superimposed.]
LANDMAN: And so we know that the battles ended badly for the giant squid.
[The video zooms out of the beak drawing; it is inside the belly of an illustrated sperm whale, which has a giant squid tentacle hanging from its mouth.]
FLYNN: There are two major reasons why it's difficult to study those kinds of things, and one is relative rarity. If you think about a giant ocean, your chances of encountering a sperm whale or a giant squid is relatively small.
[An illustrated coastline on a calm green ocean appears. The outlines of two birds fly into the distance.]
[BACKGROUND WAVES CRASHING AND SEAGULLS SCREECHING]
FLYNN: The other is that the sperm whale spends time at the surface because it has to breathe air.
[An illustrated sperm whale surfaces and spouts water.]
FLYNN: The giant squid don't. They can live their entire lives at deep depths, and so we just don't see them at all.
[The camera moves below the illustrated sperm whale to the dark depths, where an illustrated giant squid appears out of the blackness. It then fades back into the darkness.]
LANDMAN: There’s a lot of evidence that’s consistent with this hypothesis that there’s a battle between them.
[A black and white mural of a sperm whale fighting a giant squid slowly rotates on screen.]
LANDMAN: There’s nothing like hard data, though, and that is to say, having captured the scene live on video. I’m not sure we’ll achieve it any time soon.
[A photo of the American Museum of Natural History's Sperm Whale and Giant Squid diorama appears on screen, fading up slowly from black.]
LANDMAN: But this diorama, the sperm whale and the giant squid is one of the iconic dioramas in our museum because it’s so mysterious. And you know there’s still mysteries in natural history, and that kind of evokes the curious in all of us.
[The photo undulates a little bit with [BUBBLE SOUNDS] momentarily audible, before returning to a flat photograph, and fading to black.]
AMNH / L. Stevens and E. Chapman
AMNH / L. Stevens and M. Fearon
AMNH / C. Chesek
AMNH / D. Finnin
AMNH / Photo Studio
NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology
CGEffex / FreeSound.Org
Dave Hammond / FreeSound.Org
Herbert Boland / FreeSound.Org
monica137142 / FreeSound.Org
tom.p / FreeSound.Org
"Crystal Math" by Luc Pisco (GEMA) / Warner Chappell Production Music
"Pressure Point" by Neal Clutterbuck (PRS) / Warner Chappell Production Music
"Straight Oddity" by Lars Kurz (GEMA) / Warner Chappell Production Music
© American Museum of Natural History]
Happy Cephalopod Week! A well-known diorama depicts a battle between two gigantic animals: the sperm whale and giant squid. But unlike most dioramas in the Museum’s halls, this scene has never been witnessed. Paleontologists Neil Landman and John Flynn explain how we know that this encounter does happen–and whether we humans will ever catch it in real time.