36” x 24”
acrylic on canvas
Sperm whale hunters would often follow pods of whales for years. Eventually they noticed that a great many whales would gather at some point every year. Many whaling ships would cross paths in the same spot on the same day. One year, while hunting, a small bark discovered the reason for the whale congregation. The spot was an annual mating ground for the sperm whale’s favorite food, giant squid. The ritual took place at night near the surface in the moonlight. Normally, the squid live deep under the sea and sperm whale must swim far to find them, but on this night every year, the squid were vunerable. The whales knew this and eventually so did the whale hunters.
After catching a few, the sailors soon learned that the squid had many uses. One use was the ink. It was so very black and permanent, that it became prized and sought after. Archeteuthis Black, as it was called, sold at high prices. Also, parts of the squid could be cooked down to a kind of oil. This could be added to ordinary lamp oil to make it burn much longer and brighter.
In France, the eyes were thought to have curative powers and for many years the French consumed millions of barrels of a tonic made from fermented giant squid’s eyes. Although it no longer contains any giant squid eyes, sometimes one can still run accross a bottle of Bec Noir.
There were literally hundreds of uses for the tough skin and beak. Everything from clothing to musical instruments. Even a type of scrimshaw appeared briefly.
The squid could only be harvested once a year and many ships were needed to take place in a huge effort which would then split the profits. The fleet had to spread a huge net accross the sea held afloat by thousands of glass bouys. There was even a boat whose special crew needed to be constantly blowing new glass to repair broken ones during the harvest.
On the day of the mating ritual, a huge net a mile wide would be laid out to float just under the surface. That night, the squid would come to mate and become entangled. The next morning the ships would send out small boats to attach ropes to parts of the net that had squid. These would be hauled closer to the ship and caught by huge tongs. Their design no doubt inspired by the sperm whale’s jaws. A small hatch at the back of the ship would be opened to allow the squid to be dragged into the ship and slaughtered. The squid would have to be killed on board the ship to avoid loosing too much ink into the water.
Although the mating took place on a single night, the harvest actually took up to three days. Hundreds of thousands of squid were caught over the years and were almost hunted to extinction.
Technology soon replaced the squid products with synthetic copies and Architeuthis Dux were almost forgotten about. Today, although highly collectable, few authentic giant squid products still exist. There are only two remaining ships outfitted for squid hunting. One of these can be seen at Mystic seaport in Mystic, Connecticut; the other is at Newport, Rhode Island.