For centuries, fishermen from Norway and Greenland have told tales of a terrifying sea monster: the kraken. Supposedly, this vast creature has giant tentacles that can pluck you from your boat and drag you to the depths of the ocean. You can't see it coming, because it lurks deep beneath you in the dark water. But if you suddenly find yourself catching a great many fish, you should flee: the kraken might be beneath you, scaring the fish towards the surface.
In 1857, the kraken began to move from myth to reality, thanks to the Danish naturalist Japetus Steenstrup. He examined a large squid beak, about 8 cm (3 in) across, that had washed up on Denmark's shores several years earlier. Originally he could only guess at the overall size of the animal, but soon he was sent parts of another specimen from the Bahamas. When Steenstrup finally published his findings, he concluded that the kraken was real, and it was a species of giant squid. He named it Architeuthis dux, meaning "ruling squid" in Latin.
Only after Steenstrup had described the creature could scientists begin to unravel whether there was any truth to the old myths. Was this huge squid really as dangerous as the legends had led people to believe? Where did it come from, and what was it up to in the dark depths of the sea?
The kraken has held a grip on people's imaginations for hundreds of years. The Norwegian writer Erik Pontoppidan described one in detail in his 1755 book The Natural History of Norway. According to fishermen, Pontoppidan wrote, it was the size of a "number of small islands", and its back appeared to be "about an English mile and a half".
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