The Kraken's giant, ship-destroying tentacles have wound their way through sailing lore for millenia, but it wasn't until 1873 that the first of these mythical appendages was found – or so the story goes. 

Image: Pierre-Jules Hetzel/Wikimedia Commons

The discovery was made by fishermen in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, who allegedly found themselves battling with a beast of the deep. Determined to prove their tale, they lobbed off a pair of the creature's 19-foot (5.8 m) "arms". One was fed to a dog aboard the vessel, but the other found its way to the home of minister and amateur naturalist Moses Harvey.

Harvey, who was known for his interest in the natural world, eagerly paid $10 to get his hands on the strange specimen (the equivalent of roughly $200 today). Of course, the fishermen hadn't collected a piece of the Kraken, but rather the first-ever intact tentacle from a giant squid in the genus Architeuthus.

News spread of Harvey's interest, and it was echoed by scientists of the time. The following year, when a second fishing vessel discovered a full giant squid carcass tangled in their nets in nearby Logy Bay, the crew knew where to take it. 

"These fisherman had obviously heard that Harvey had paid $10 for a tentacle and thought, ‘Well, goodness, what will he pay for the entire thing?’” explained Matthew Gavin Frank, who explored Harvey's life in his 2014 book Preparing the Ghost, in an interview with The Scientist Magazine earlier this year. "The answer was also $10."

The 27-foot (8.2m) specimen was initially kept in Harvey's bathtub, as seen in a now-famous photograph that came to be known as "The Problem of the Giant Squid". (The problem being, of course, that the creature was now undeniably real.)

This 1874 photo of a squid draped over Harvey's bathtub was the first ever taken of a giant squid. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Although Harvey's intentions were good, his inexperience working with these animals showed in his treatment of the specimen. Anyone who's prepared a healthy portion of calamari can attest that squid tissues are mostly soft, gelatinous and pliable. This means that cephalopods dry out very quickly after being removed from the ocean. By the time Harvey's giant squid reached its next home at Yale University's zoology department, it had desiccated and shrunk considerably. 

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The "Sea Monk". Image: Roeleveld & Knudsen, 1980

Still, it would go on to be extremely important to science. "People once thought giant squid were 'Sea Monks' — mythical creatures that were part fish-like and part human male," notes the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (SMNH), which now houses the specimen in its collections. "Professor A.E. Verrill of Yale University used Harvey's curiosity to provide the first accurate description and scientific illustration of the [species]."

Fast-forward some 200 years, and for all our recent discoveries, we're still unravelling the secrets of these deep-sea inhabitants. We know they taste like metal, can snatch prey that's up to 33 feet (10m) away, and have blue blood and eyes the size of dinner plates – but that information comes from dead specimens just like Harvey's. In fact, we first filmed a giant squid alive in its natural habitat only in 2012.

The ins and outs of their ecology, where they spawn and just how large they grow remain a big, unsolved mystery. 

SMNH zoologist Dr Clyde Roper has led several follow-ups to the 2012 expedition that brought us the first Archie footage. He's also published over 150 papers on giant squid. "If you want to see a live giant squid, you have to go to where it lives. That happens to be the inky black, icy cold waters 1,650 feet (500 m) to 3,300 feet (1,000 m) below the ocean’s surface — not a very convenient place to watch wildlife."

Even someone as experienced as Roper has yet to spot ol' Archie in action. But he intends to keep searching until that long-held dream is finally realised.