A new report shows that fishermen and researchers alike still struggle with exaggeration when it comes to the size of sea creatures.
We’ve all heard stories about how the giant squid can reach lengths of up to 60 feet, but according to a new study, that’s likely closer to 40 feet and even then that is quite a rare occurrence. A team of researchers including Craig McClain, a marine biologist at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina believe that even scientists and the media are quite capable of overstating the size of these creatures of the deep.
“It’s human nature to tell a ‘fishing story,'” said McClain. “We’re horrible at saying what the size of something is, without actually taking a measurement.”
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Giant Squid, Whale Sharks: Biggest V. Average
He and the team looked into the reported sizes of 25 marine creatures including the giants: squid, whales and sharks.
In addition to the aforementioned squid mis-sizing, he and his students looked at whale sharks by poring over scientific publications, museum collections, and speaking with experts. Essentially, he concluded that we exaggerate and often speak to largest when we should be speaking to the average.
“Asking how big a human is, on average, is a lot different than asking about the tallest human,” said McClain.
In the case of the whale shark, his team found that reports put the animal’s length at 65.6 feet but 61.7 feet is more accurate. The team also found that shark lengths in deadly attacks are generally reported as longer than those of the same species that just bit a human. Whether or not it’s because larger sharks are more aggressive or because the deadliness of the attack brought exaggeration was inconclusive.
The inherent difficulty
What the team did find that thanks to the whaling industry (a sentence you don’t read or hear very often), scientists do know that the larger of blue whales do reach lengths of around 108 feet.
While the team did see a propensity to overstate, they admitted that their findings are not the end-all-be-all on the matter.
How does one even measure the size of a giant squid or a blue whale? “It’s difficult,” McClain admits. Some animals, like squid, simply wash ashore. For whale sharks, researchers can put laser-reflective dots at a fixed interval on the creature’s side and extrapolate the length. For blue whales, whalers would cook the animals down for fat, and determine the weight from how many pots they had to use, McClain said.