The squid or the whale? Reported giant squid in Lynn Canal turns out to be decomposing whale

The creature, thought to be a giant squid, turned out to be a decomposing whale. A portion if it is seen here. (Photo courtesy of John Hagen)

For a few hours Tuesday, a reported giant squid sighting in Lynn Canal excited marine researchers. But, after some investigation, it was determined the alleged squid was, in fact, a decomposing whale.

On Tuesday morning, a fisherman called the U.S. Coast Guard to report a giant squid on the West side of Lynn Canal, near St. James Bay.

The Coast Guard passed the message on to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Since squid aren’t mammals, the stranding network deferred to the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute.

“They thought, we don’t do squid, maybe you guys like squid. And everybody got really excited about a giant squid,” says John Moran, a fisheries research biologist with the institute’s Auke Bay Laboratories.

“A lot of researchers were getting excited about it and wanted samples,” says Moran. “They wanted to know what they were eating. Things are changing in the ocean. We’ve had a lot of warm water. There’s supposedly more squid around. So it didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that it could have been a big squid.”

If it had been a giant squid, Moran says it would have been a pretty big deal.

“I think it would have been the first sighting in Alaska of a giant squid,” says Moran. “We have some other species of squid that are big, but not that big, not giant squid. I looked up some of the information on it. If it was — it would have been a really big giant squid if the mantle length really was 30 ft. It would have been huge.”

A team from Moran’s office went out to look for the creature Tuesday night.

“They couldn’t find it and then they saw a fishing boat out there. They said ‘are you looking for the squid?’ They said, ‘oh yeah, we are.’ ‘It’s over there.’ They drove up, and it’s a whale,” says Moran.

A decomposing humpback whale. Moran says NOAA was already familiar with this particular animal.

“When you start looking close, you can see there’s bones in there,” says Moran. “We’d been on that carcass before and there was a necropsy performed on it. So we knew pretty much where it had come from. And we had been tracking it, too. It had floated out of Young’s Bay and it was heading north.”

Still, he says he understands how the mistake could have happened.

“If you don’t know what you’re looking at — it is a big blob, so you can see how it might look like a squid,” says Moran. “It’s a big, white blob, looks nothing like a whale. I think the head probably fell off. The tail fell off. There were no flippers on it. So basically it’s a big, white, gooey blob floating on the surface. It probably looked more like a squid body than anything else, I would guess.”

And, the thought of a giant squid in Lynn Canal, though rare, was not totally out of the question.

“There have been sperm whales tracked almost up to Haines,” says Moran.

Sperm whales prey on giant squid.

“They’ve been seen in Lynn Canal and in Chatham,” says Moran. “We’re kind of wondering what they’re doing up there. Because typically, they’re off on the shelf break, out in deep water, feeding on squid and sablefish and things like that. They have been moving into Chatham and almost to Haines.”

Moran says marine animal mix-ups like this one are not uncommon.

“We often get descriptions of animals or parts of animals,” says Moran. “Sometimes things like weird and a lot of times it turns out to be something that’s pretty common…a lot of baby killer whales that turn out to be Dall’s Porpoise, that kind of thing.”

So, no giant squid this time. Just a decomposing humpback whale near the fishing grounds.

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