In 2003 Olivier de Kersauson was skipper of a 34-metre trimaran sailing across the Atlantic when it suddenly came to a juddering halt. When he looked through a porthole he saw a massive tentacle, thicker than a human leg, wrapping itself round the boat’s rudder. Fortunately, the owner of the tentacle soon thought better of the idea and slid off back into the depths from where it had presumably come. It was estimated that the creature must have been about 10 metres long.
There have long been stories about giant sea monsters that could grab hold of large ships and drag them under the waves with the loss of all their crew. The word “kraken” has been used in many stories and myths to describe squid-like creatures that were capable of such deeds. Alfred Tennyson wrote a sonnet in the 1820s with the title “The Kraken”, and that inspired John Wyndham to write his 1953 science-fiction novel “The Kraken Wakes”, although his plot involves an invasion of the world by aliens from another planet.
Kraken is a Norwegian word, and early accounts were based on monsters that lived in the North Atlantic, but stories of this kind are also told in other parts of the world. In the same year that Olivier de Kersauson had his heart-stopping moment in the Atlantic, a squid was caught that had attacked a trawler off Antarctica. This was believed to be a juvenile of the species Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, a super-squid that can grow to as much as 15 metres (50 feet) in length.
So could this cold water species be the origin of all those old stories? Maybe!