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The Legend Of The Kraken Vs. The Actual Giant Squid

Updated June 14, 2019 13k views13 items

The legend of the giant kraken has made its way into books, movies, and countless tales of the sea. The beast was whispered to wait at the bottom of the ocean for victims to pass by. Then, it would burst to the surface, its terrible tentacles crushing both ships and men and dragging them to a watery grave. It's a thrilling story, but was the kraken real?

The kraken was likely based on numerous mythological sea monsters as well as sightings of giant squid, something that probably looked pretty freaky at the time. A closer examination of the kraken vs. the giant squid reveals the legend is a little exaggerated, just like any good myth. The fact and fiction of the kraken becomes even more interesting when you consider the actual marine creature.

Was the kraken just a giant squid? Here's a look at the legend compared to the real thing.

  • The Kraken Measured One-And-A-Half Miles Wide

    Photo: Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy / Wikimedia Commons / PD-1923

    The kraken was supposedly massive. According to Erik Pontoppidan's 1755 book The Natural History of Norway, the kraken measured about a mile-and-a-half wide and "looks at first like a number of small islands."

    In 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Jules Verne envisioned a kraken-like creature that "could entangle a ship of five thousand tons and bury it into the abyss of the ocean."

  • The Giant Squid Measures Around 33 Feet

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    On average, a giant squid measures around 33 feet, including the tentacles. That's about the size of a school bus, but still 7,887 feet smaller than the kraken was believed to be.

    So where did the notion of monstrous size come from? A squid's skin tends to get rubbery in the sun, and a beached creature may have stretched to appear bigger. But if the giant squid doesn't sound as scary as the kraken, just try to imagine an eye as big as a beach ball staring at you.

  • The Kraken Used Its Tentacles To Snatch Sailors And Crush Ships

    Photo: Édouard Riou, Alphonse de Neuville / Wikimedia Commons / PD-US

    The legend of the kraken told of a mysterious, many-armed beast that emerged from the ocean without warning. Its monstrous tentacles could wrap themselves around a ship and pull it down to the depths of the sea. In some cases, it would pluck men from the deck and drag them under – if it hadn't crushed them first.

  • The Giant Squid Isn't Very Aggressive

    Photo: NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Giant squid have eight arms and two long tentacles to grab things, each lined with sharp-toothed suction cups. They are known to latch onto the heads of sperm whales that try to eat them, and many whales have been found with suction cup scars. But there have only been a few stories of a giant squid actually attacking a boat, and no one is sure if they're quite true. 

    People have had unfortunate encounters with Humboldt squid. Known as "red devils" due to the color they take on when they are in attack mode, they are much more aggressive than giant squid. At least they're not the size of a small island.