Mollusk | Chapter 1 | Alien

Go to the low tide line on the beach. Look out over the water.

Ninety-nine percent of the habitable space on earth is under the oceans. Somewhere beneath that surface, Architeuthis dux, the kraken, king of the mollusks, is winging its way through the depths.

Weighing nearly a ton, the kraken is a boneless beast, five stories high as it hangs in the darkness. Its three hearts are bathed in a pale blue blood that uses copper instead of iron to carry oxygen through its long tentacles and mantle. Its sharp beak slices prey to pieces. In its mouth, a tongue-like radula is covered in rows of teeth.

For millennia, we thought the kraken was a myth. Then, in 1874, fishermen dragged a dead giant squid onto the beach of the cold Canadian coast. A preacher named Moses Harvey paid the fishermen ten dollars for its carcass.

At home that night, Harvey draped Architeuthis dux over his bathtub like an enormous, grim curtain. He took the first photo of the giant squid, proving to the world that the myth was reality.

Nature's shower curtain. Moses Harvey's Architeuthis Dux.  Verrill, A.E., 1882

Nature's shower curtain. Moses Harvey's Architeuthis Dux. Verrill, A.E., 1882

A century and a half has passed since Moses struggled to haul the dead weight of his “devilfish” home. We have sent more than 500 humans into space, but the king of the mollusks remains a mystery.

Finding a giant squid in the vast three-dimensional world under water is nearly impossible. The first photo of a living giant squid was taken in 2004. Footage of the giant squid in its natural habitat in the deep ocean wasn’t captured until 2012.

When a dead squid washes up on the beach, we rush to encase it in a block of ice before its body begins to desiccate and shrink.

There are just twelve giant squid pickled or iced in museums across the USA. New Zealand has two. Australia has one. All are slightly battered: missing a tentacle, a rotten beak. Every year, hundreds of thousands of us go to stare into their huge dead eyes, the largest in the animal kingdom.

It is alien to us. It is other. It is a mollusk.