The Real Size of Underwater Giants


PeerJ. Click to enlarge.

You think you know how big the animals in our oceans can get, but you're probably wrong. Craig McClain, assistant director of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina, was inspired to write a paper on the prevalence of faulty information about the size of different sea creatures when, a few years ago, he "noticed that people kept saying that giant squids reached 60 feet in length, which is amazingly long." McClain adds, "When I started actually looking at the data, I found that that estimate was actually quite unrealistic." The paper, Sizing Ocean Giants: Patterns of Intraspecific Size Variation in Marine Megafauna, is available now at PeerJ.

In addition to considering squid, McClain invited graduate and undergraduate students to join the project and submit data on other aquatic animals. The study also relied heavily on social media to promote their research and contact sources. The information they gathered is presented in a handy graphic above, which you can click on for a larger version.

"Precise, accurate, and quantified measurements matter at both a philosophical and pragmatic level," McClain says. "Saying something is approximately 'this big,' while holding your arms out won't cut it, nor will inflating how large some of these animals are." In the case of squid, the fact that their muscles loosen and stretch during decomposition could account for the erroneous reporting.

[h/t io9]