The legendary sea monster was horrifying according to stories it was a huge, many armed, creature could reach as high as the top of a sailing ship's main mast. A Kraken would attack a ship, wrap their arms around the hull and capsize it. The crew would drown or be eaten. What is amazing about the Kraken stories is that there is evidence that these creatures exist.
The early evidence about Kraken, from Norway in the twelfth century, refer to a creature the size of an island. In 1752, when the Bishop of Bergen et al wrote his The Natural History of Norway he described the Kraken as a "floating island" one and a half miles across. The Bishop of Bergan noted "It seems these are the creature's arms, and, it is said, if they were to lay hold of the largest man-of-war, they would pull it down to the bottom." As time past Kraken stories bring the creature down to a smaller, but still monstrous, size.
The Kraken is most likely to be a not a single creature but either one of these two living creature's known today as the Giant Squid and the Colossal Octopus would fit the many descriptions. The squid is seen to be much more aggressive and more likely to come to the surface. Giant squids are significantly less then a mile and a half across, they are large enough to grapple with a sperm whale. On three confirmed occasions in the 1930's giant squids attacked ships. The reasoning behind the attacks is thought that the squids thought that the hull of the boat moving through the water was in fact a sperm whale. There have been witness accounts such at the following. In 1965, a Soviet whaler watched a battle between a Giant squid and a 40ton Sperm whale. In this case neither were victorious. The strangled whale was found floating in the sea with the squid's tentacles wrapped around the whale's throat. The squid's severed head was found in the whale's stomach.
In the times when the sailors were reporting these giant sea Kraken they were sailing in wooden ships that were often not greater in length of 100ft, so a giant squid hundred feet in length would have been able to wrap its tentacles around the vessels and turn it over.
Giant squid theories on how big can they grow to has been subject to many scientific discussions. Estimates based on damaged carcasses range up to one hundred feet. One piece of evidence indicates they might grow even larger. A night during World War II a British Admiralty trawler was lying off the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean. One of the crew, A. G. Starkey, was up on deck, alone, fishing, when he saw noticed within the water.
"As I gazed, fascinated, a circle of green light glowed in my area of illumination. This green unwinking orb I suddenly realised was an eye. The surface of the water undulated with some strange disturbance. Gradually I realised that I was gazing at almost point-black range at a huge squid."
Starkey walked the length the of the ship finding the tail at one end and the tentacles at the other. The Trawler was over one hundred and seventy five feet long.
The Colossal Octopus there is some evidence that, in the deep sea, their lives an unknown species of octopus that can grow to over a hundred feet across and weigh 10 tons. The octopus is a distant cousin of the squid and both belong to a group of animals called cephalopods. Both are invertebrates, that is they have no backbone, and each have multiple arms, lined with suckers, that allow the creatures to hold fast to prey or other objects. Both are fairly intelligent, with large dark eyes. Both are carnivorous.
Squid have ten arms, though, while the octopus has only eight. Squid are also thought to spend most of their time in the mid-waters while the octopus is a bottom dweller using its arms to move from rock to rock. Finally, while the squid has a reputation for aggression, the octopus has a more shy and retiring disposition. Not those octopi are entirely harmless. When angered they can be dangerous to both swimmers and divers. With their strong, long arms they can hold a man underwater until he drowns.
Only one colossal octopus carcass has ever been found and it was, and still is, surrounded in controversy. The story starts in November of 1896 when two boys cycling along the beach south of St. Augustine, Florida, came across the body of an enormous creature that had been washed up by the tide. Dr. DeWitt Webb, a local amateur naturalist, took an interest in the remains. After an examination of the mutilated and decaying body he believed that he'd discovered the carcass of a huge octopus.
The portion of the creature that remained, the body minus the arms, was eighteen feet in length and ten feet wide. Parts of tentacles, unattached to the body, stretched as long as 36 feet with a diameter of 10 inches. Dr. Webb estimated weight at four or five tons. Realising this was an important find Webb wrote to Yale Professor Addison Verrill, a leading expert on cephalopods, about the creature:
"You may be interested to know of the body of an immense Octopus thrown ashore some miles south of this city. Nothing but the stump of the tentacles remains, as it had evidently been dead for some time before washed ashore."
Based on photographs sent by Webb, Verrill concluded that the creature was indeed a colossal octopus that might have had a diameter of one hundred and fifty feet when living. Strangely enough, despite the importance of the find, Dr. Verrill, nor any other scientist, travelled to St. Augustine to view the carcass in person.
Webb finally sent Verrill a sample of the tissue of the creature preserved in formalin. Verrill was surprised to find it had the appearance of blubber and abruptly changed his mind stating that he now believed the creature was a whale and that the arms were not associated with the body. The whole matter would have rested like that if it hadn't been for Forrest Wood, the director of Marine Studios in Florida. Wood came across an old news story about the monster and discovered that Webb's sample was still stored at the Smithsonian Institution.
Wood persuaded the Smithsonian to let Dr. Joseph Gennaro, of the University of Florida, to take some of the samples for analysis. Gennaro immediately recognised that the material was not blubber and examination under a microscope showed the tissue was more similar to octopus than whale or squid. Further tests later confirmed this conclusion. So it seems that Webb was right and Verrill changed his mind too quickly. The scientific community has not yet accepted Gennaro's conclusions and it may take another beached carcass to settle the matter.