Chapter Eight: Leviathan Versus Kraken: Wherein the Physeter, Largest Vertebrate Predator that has ever Lived on Earth, meets Architeuthis, the Largest and most Powerful of the Invertebrate Class.
In the titanic battle between sperm whale and giant squid, the giant squid always loses. In fact, one of the easiest – and only – ways to study giant squid is by investigating the stomach of a sperm whale. It is not uncommon to find 5,000-7,000 squid beaks in the stomach of a single sperm whale. A Soviet scientist once found 28,000 squid beaks inside the stomach of one whale! Oftentimes, the beaks are the only squid remnants left in the stomach by the time humans get to investigate because they are made of a chitinous material that resists digestion. It has been estimated that 100 million tons of squid per year are required to feed the enormous world population of sperm whales. In other words, the weight of squid eaten every year by sperm whales is greater than the weight of the entire human race! This fact leads one to believe that there is an unbelievably immense squid population; perhaps squid are one of the most numerous animals on the planet.
Ellis describes the sperm whale’s main attack strategy: the sonic boom hypothesis (first proposed by Soviet cetologists). “…it is now assumed that the sperm whale captures its prey by emitting focused sound beams of such intensity that they can stun or even kill their prey” (Ellis 241). AWESOME.
Ellis on ambergris: “Although the actual process of its formation is unknown, the material known as ambergris occurs in the intestinal tract of sperm whales and can be found in the whale or vomited up and floating on the surface of the ocean. It is a grayish, crumbly material, often compared to peat moss, that somehow forms around a squid beak. In the past it was worth more than its weight in gold and was used as a fixative or perfumes. The largest clump ever recorded weighed 983 pounds” (Ellis 244).
An interesting word from this chapter:
“Acetabula” – the sucking disc of a squid.