Episode 5: Giant Squid

Enter the mysterious deep sea and learn about the behavior of the giant squid with the South Carolina Aquarium offsite link!  

A red giant squid is suspended from the ceiling and in the center of the photo to demonstrate scale of the organism.

A 35-foot life-size model of giant squid made out of nearly 1,000 recycled plastic bottles at the South Carolina Aquarium.

Audio file

MUSIC: [Octonauts theme music] Octonauts, to your stations! Barnacles! Kwazii! Peso!

HOST: You’re listening to "NOAA & the Octonauts" — an episode-by-episode discussion of the children’s TV show The Octonauts, which features a crew of quirky and courageous undersea adventurers. Their mission: to explore the world’s ocean, rescue the creatures who live there, and protect their habitats. 

MUSIC: [Octonauts theme music] Explore! Rescue! Protect! Octonauts!

HOST: Our monthly podcast brings together experts from inside and outside of NOAA to help you — and the children you care about — learn more about the real-life versions of the Octonauts sea creatures and the ocean they call home. 

This podcast is hosted by NOAA’s Office of Education and the Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center Network. Today, I’m your host, Gabrielle Corradino. 

Today, we’re talking about Episode 6 — The Giant Squid.

While exploring the ocean in the Gup-A, Captain Barnacles and Kwazii are grabbed by a mysterious creature. Professor Inkling realizes that the creature that grabbed the Gup-A is Inkling's long-lost cousin, Irving the Giant Squid. Inkling and the Octonauts search for Irving and the episode ends with Inking and Irving being reunited and taking a family photo.

MUSIC: [Bubbles]

HOST: Now, before we begin our chat, let’s set the stage for today’s deep dive. Like other squid species, the giant squid has eight arms and two longer feeding tentacles that help them bring food to their beak-like mouths. These organisms are voracious hunters and will eat things like fish and other squid found in the deepest parts of the ocean. 

What makes the giant squid unique is how big they are! They truly live up to their name "giant," as they can be 33 feet long and weigh 440 pounds! The giant squid remains largely a mystery to scientists despite being so large because of where they live. These enormous organisms can be found in some pretty deep water, and since they don’t breathe air like whales or dolphins, the squid do not need to be near the surface water.

Our guest today is here to answer all of our questions about the giant squid and all things deep sea! Brian Thill is here to share with us a bit about his work at the South Carolina Aquarium. The aquarium opened in 2000 on the historic Charleston Harbor and has over 5,000 animal ambassadors representing about 270 species found across South Carolina. The aquarium is also home to the Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery Center.

Thank you for being here Brian! We are really excited to kick off this episode; can you tell us more about your role at the South Carolina Aquarium?

BRIAN THILL: Thanks Gabrielle, I have the honor to serve as the Director of Education here at the South Carolina Aquarium. I get to work with a talented team that engages students, teachers and visitors from all over the U.S. and beyond. We like to say, “There’s no such thing as a typical day here,” which makes work very interesting. On a given day we might be taking some animal ambassadors to a school, performing a dive show in front of our great ocean tank, training volunteers on how to work at a touch tank, building an oyster reef with teenagers out in the marsh, or live-streaming the release of a sea turtle at the beach.  

HOST: Wow, what a wide range of activities going on at the South Carolina Aquarium. I've got to ask, have you released any sea turtles for this season?

BRIAN THILL: We have not had any live releases yet at the beach. We are starting to see the sea turtles come up on the shores of South Carolina.

HOST: With all of the different opportunities going on at the aquarium, what Octonauts’ job do you think you have, Brian? Are you a researcher like Shellington, an oceanographer like Inkling, a systems analyst like Dashi, a leader like Barnacles?

BRIAN THILL: I’m going to say Barnacles. Like Barnacles, I get to wear a blue hat and a blue shirt every day so we have that in common. Barnacles also gets to work as a team to go on missions to learn more about the ocean. We also organize different “missions” if you will, or projects, to help others learn about water, wildlife, and wild places through our virtual classroom programs, our classrooms on site, and in our aquarium galleries. 

HOST: Well Brian, we appreciate you being here to discuss the team’s adventure with Irving the Giant Squid. Does your job involve working with any squid or octopus?

BRIAN THILL: Well, sort of. We do have a giant squid but that squid is a model made out of repurposed plastic. We want our guests to stand next to this giant squid to see how big this amazing, mysterious animal is. We also want to share with our guests the big challenge plastics can have on our ocean ecosystem. While we don’t have a live giant squid, we have the giant squid’s cousin the common octopus on exhibit from time to time. The common octopus, like the giant squid, is an intelligent animal. We like to give these animal ambassadors enrichment opportunities by adding objects to their habitat that they can explore and manipulate. 

HOST: Wow, what a cool opportunity to see a scale model of a giant squid and the live octopus. Does the octopus at the aquarium, does it have the same number of arms and tentacles as the giant squid or are they different?

BRIAN THILL: Barring a few exceptions, octopuses have eight arms and no tentacles, while squid and cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles. Squid usually use their two long tentacles to catch prey and eat it in chunks. Giant squid can snatch prey up to 33 feet away by shooting out their two feeding tentacles, which are tipped with hundreds of powerful sharp-toothed suckers.

HOST: That is pretty incredible. So speaking of eating, it is lunchtime on the East Coast, and in the episode Irving was really hungry and Inkling gave his long-lost cousin some fish-shaped biscuits. Do you think Giant squid would actually eat these biscuits?

BRIAN THILL: What an interesting question. Maybe if the biscuits or cookies were made out of fish or shrimp instead of chocolate chips? I think we’d have to use the scientific method that we learned from our teachers to see if they’d eat the fish shaped biscuits or cookies. Maybe our future scientists can help us answer that question someday.

HOST: I hope so! That would be a really fun research project to be a part of. While I was doing some of my own research on the giant squid earlier this week, I read that their eyes can be 1-foot long, which is really quite big! Do the large eyes help the squid its prey better or see in the ocean? What is the purpose for having such a large eye?

BRIAN THILL: Imagine a squid’s eye being the size of your dinner plate or maybe the size of a ball or frisbee you use at PE or recess. It is about 1 foot in diameter and this big eye helps them see well in the dark. Since it is so big, the eye can absorb more light in the dark areas in the deep ocean.

HOST: Why are giant squid so hard to research? I mean, they are pretty large marine organisms, wouldn’t that make them easy to spot in a submarine or even when we are out scuba diving?

BRIAN THILL: That is such a great question. The ocean is such a large place though. Our friends at NOAA say that more than 80% of the ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. That is a really big area we don’t know a lot about. Imagine playing hide and seek in a really really big park at night: it could be hard to find your friends. Researchers have also learned that squid and octopuses who are related are also very intelligent, so I bet they’re good at hiding and camouflaging like some of our listeners.

HOST: Brian, since their natural habitat is the deep sea and, as you mentioned, they are likely experts in hiding, do you think this may be why there is so much mystery and folklore surrounding the giant squid? Because I know that the giant squid is mentioned in several books, including the famous one from 1870, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which prominently features the giant squid as a monster. Do you think these things are related?

BRIAN THILL: Absolutely! Can you imagine a time before science museums, nature programs, cameras, or the internet and seeing this mysterious animal only to tell the story of what you saw and experienced. Who would believe that? Legends of these feared monsters roaming the ocean and taking out ships and sailors found their way in imaginative stories, the illustrations, the pictures, the movies over hundreds of the years by people from all around the world. Today though we know that one of the real “monsters” in the ocean is single-use plastic. We have more to fear from pollution in our oceans than the giant squid. 

HOST: This is a great point Brian, and it's a reminder to everyone that it is so important to take care of our ocean and all waterways by preventing pollution. Brian, it has been wonderful to learn about the Giant Squid and all of your work at the South Carolina Aquarium! 

So, thank you so much, we really appreciate your time and help on our show.

MUSIC: [Octo-Alert]

HOST: That’s the Octo-Alert. We want to hear your questions. What giant squid questions would you like to ask an expert? We’ll make sure to pass these questions along to our NOAA scientists and aquarium educators. Head to NOAA’s Office of Education Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to post your questions and we will post their answers!

MUSIC: [Captain Barnacles’ theme]

Well that’s it for today's show! To learn more about squid of all kinds and to see the replica life-sized giant squid make sure to head to the South Carolina Aquarium, and check out their website at scaquarium.org.

NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research Expedition has also captured some rare footage of a giant squid in the Gulf of Mexico. To learn more, just click the link in the transcript of the podcast.

MUSIC: [Bubbles]

HOST: I’m Gabrielle Corradino and this has been NOAA & The Octonauts. See you next time. 

MUSIC: [Creature Report] 

Calling all Octonauts!

Kwazii! ​Peso! Shellington! Dashi! Inkling! Tweak! Tunip!

Kwazii, activate creature report!

Creature report, creature report, creature report!

Giant squid have great big eyes
They grow to an enormous size
When a giant squid’s afraid
It squirts out ink and swims away
Eight long arms are quite a sight
The suckers underneath help them old on tight

Dance break!

Go squid, go squid, go squid!

We’re done with our mission. Octonauts, at ease, until the next adventure!