Excerpted from Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer by Matthew Gavin Frank. Copyright © 2014 by Matthew Gavin Frank. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
As Harvey stepped closer to the scene, he saw now that the fishermen’s raincoats were uniformly orange—and not yellow—and, as they surrounded the fallen beast like so many scattered searchlights, the smell of it, this close, shifted to something so deeply marine it smelled dark—mineshaft-dark; the rotting corpses of countless failed canaries, the ones who got lost in the pitch; and something of burning tires. In this, Harvey surely began to feel faint, the cool of the rain trickling to the inside of his coat, the drops running along the lines of his body, into his armpits, over his ribcage, commingling with the anxious sweat there. He exhaled and, given the temperature, saw his breath escape him, tumble into the air toward the giant squid, graying massive on dry land, and disappear. He began to have trouble determining exactly what he was seeing—what was, and what wasn’t.
The giant squid
is an umbrella classification that may encompass up to eight species.
has ten arms.
is prey to sperm whales, who house in their heads both spermaceti (a white waxy substance of uncertain biological function that humans have extracted and used in making candles, ointments, and -cosmetics) and the biggest brain of any animal.
is the semimissing link between vertebrates and invertebrates as, according to Harvey, “the glassy internal pen . . . and the calcareous internal ‘bone’ . . . are held to foreshadow the spinal column of the higher animals.”
’s tentacles are adorned with subspherical suction cups, each of which can be five centimeters in diameter, possess a sharp serrated lining, and are responsible for the ring-shaped scars that are commonly found on the heads of sperm whales.
’s tentacles are grouped around the beast’s “beak,” which resembles that of a parrot, but is way, way bigger.
’s suckers are typically described as “campanulate,” meaning of a flower, meaning bell-shaped, meaning like a campanula, the bloom which lent its name to Rapunzel, the bloom from which white latex is extracted to make the gloves worn by scientists when they dissect things like the giant squid.
’s blood loses its ability to carry oxygen in warmer waters, resulting in suffocation.