Gigantic Octopus

A huge Cephalopod of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Scientific names: Octopus giganteus, given by Addison E. Verrill in 1897; Otoctopus giganteus, proposed by Michel Raynal in 1986.

Variant names: Bermuda blob, Lusca.

Distribution: From the east coast of Florida to Bermuda, Belize, and south Texas.

Significant sightings: On November 30, 1896, a huge carcass was found washed up on Anastasia Beach, near St. Augustine, Florida. DeWitt Webb, a local medical doctor, examined and took several photographs of it. The specimen was 20 feet long, 4 feet high, and 5 feet wide. Its estimated weight was 5 tons. It had a pear-shaped, pinkish body with a silvery cast and was covered with 3-6 inches of extremely tough connective tissue. The stumps of five arms were evident, and some of the detached arms, one of which was 28 feet long and 8 inches thick, were found lying several feet away. Some of the internal organs were still present. A storm carried the mass out to sea in early January 1897, but it reappeared 2 miles farther south, and Webb managed to haul it up to higher ground using horses, tackle, and windlass. He identified the remains as an octopus and sent descriptions, photos, and tissue samples to Yale cephalopod expert Addison E. Verrill. Verrill first identified the mass as a Giant squid (Architeuthis) but

Fofi Sightings
DeWitt Webb shown in front of the remains of what might have been a GIANT OCTOPUS washed ashore near St. Augustine, Florida, in 1896. (Fortean Picture Library)

changed his designation to Gigantic octopus long enough to give it a scientific name; he then retracted that statement after looking more closely at Webb's tissue samples and suggested the mass may have come from the nose of a Sperm whale (Physeter catodon).

A blob of similar matter with five arms washed into Mangrove Bay on Bermuda in May 1988. Discovered by Teddy Tucker, it was a mass of tough, white, fibrous substance 8 feet long and about 3 feet thick.

Tissue analysis: Fortunately, a sample from the 1896 stranding sent to William H. Dall at the Smithsonian Institution had been retained, though the bulk of it is now lost. Three analyses have been performed on this material: histological tests in 1963 by Joseph Gennaro, amino-acid analysis in 1986 by Roy Mackal, and electron-microscope and biochemical procedures in 1994 by Sidney Pierce. The first two analyses indicated the substance was connective tissue similar to that found in an octopus; the last suggested that both it and the 1988 Bermuda sample consisted of collagen—whale blubber in the first instance and the thick skin of a fish in the second. Probably only a sophisticated collagen electrophoresis test or amino-acid sequence analysis will resolve this discrepancy. Unfortu gigantic octopus 205

nately, the Florida specimen may be too contaminated now to be tested successfully. Possible explanations:

(1) A gigantic North Atlantic variety of octopus. The largest known species is the Giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), which can exceed a radial spread of 20 feet and a weight of 100 pounds. A smaller relative, E. megalocyathus, is found in the eastern South Pacific and South Atlantic in Chilean and Argentinan waters. Michel Raynal has suggested that a giant form of cirrate octopus, such as Cirroteuthis, might be involved.

(2) The spermaceti tank from a sperm whale's head, which has a baglike shape, weighs several tons and is rich in collagen.

(3) A decomposed Ocean sunfish (Mola mold) because of its unusual shape. The heaviest of all bony fishes, with a maximum weight of 4,400 pounds, the sunfish looks like a big head with long dorsal and anal fins. The scaleless body is covered with thick, elastic skin. It grows to a maximum length of nearly 11 feet and is common in warm and temperate waters of the Atlantic. However, a sunfish does not come close to matching the description of the original specimen. Sources: Addison E. Verrill, "A Gigantic

Cephalopod on the Florida Coast," American Journal of Science, ser. 4, 3 (January 1897): 79; Addison E. Verrill, "Additional Information Concerning the Giant Cephalopod of Florida," American Journal ofScience, ser. 4, 3 (February 1897): 162-163; Addison E. Verrill, "The Florida Sea-Monster," American Naturalist31 (April 1897): 304-307; Addison E. Verrill, "The Supposed Giant Octopus of Florida: Certainly Not a Cephalopod," American Journal ofScience, ser. 4, 3 (April 1897): 355-356; Forrest G. Wood and Joseph G. Gennaro, "An Octopus Trilogy," Natural History 80 (March 1971): 15-24, 84-87; Gary S. Mangiacopra, "Octopus giganteus Verrill: A New Species of Cephalopod," Of Sea and Shore 6, no. 1 (Spring 1975): 3-10, 51-52; Gary S. Mangiacopra, "More on Octopus giganteus," Of Sea and Shore 8, no. 3 (Fall 1977): 174, 178; "Giant Octopus Blamed for Deep Sea Fishing Disruptions,"

ISC Newsletter 4, no. 3 (Autumn 1985): 1-6; Roy P. Mackal, "Biochemical Analyses of Preserved Octopus giganteus Tissue," Cryptozoology 5 (1986): 55-62; "Bermuda Blob Remains Unidentified," ISC Newsletter 7, no. 3 (Autumn 1988): 1-6; Richard Ellis, Monsters of the Sea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), pp. 303- 322; Michel Raynal, "The Case for the Giant Octopus," Fortean Studies 1 (1994): 210-234; Sidney K. Pierce, Gerald N. Smith Jr., Timothy K. Maugel, and Eugenie Clark, "On the Giant Octopus (Octopus giganteus) and the Bermuda Blob: Homage to A. E. Verrill," Biological Bulletin 188 (1995): 219-230; Gary S. Mangiacopra et al., "An Open Forum on the Biological Bulletins Article on the Octopus giganteus Tissue Analysis," Of Sea and Shore 19, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 45-50; John Moore, "What Are the Globsters?" Cryptozoology Review 1, no. 1 (Summer 1996): 20-29; Michel Raynal, "Debunking the Debunkers of the Giant Octopus," INFO Journal, no. 74 (Winter 1996): 24-27; Gary S. Mangiacopra, Michel P. R. Raynal, Dwight G. Smith, and David F. Avery, "'Him of the Hairy Hands': Octopus giganteus, Speculation on the Eared Octopus," Cryptozoology Review 1, no. 3 (Winter-Spring 1997): 13-18; Gary S. Mangiacopra, "Another Octopus giganteus Rebuttal—Again!" Of Sea and Shore 21, no. 4 (Winter 1999): 233-234; Michel Raynal, "Le 'Monstre de Floride' de 1896: Cachalot ou pieuvre géante?" May 2000, http://perso.

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