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Volume 12, 1879
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Art. XLIII.—On the Occurrence of Giant Cuttlefish on the New Zealand Coast.

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 10th October, 1879.]

As far as I am aware, there is at present no record of the occurrence of cuttlefish of unusual size on the New Zealand coast. That the Maoris have traditions of the existence of such monsters is, however, beyond doubt. I have therefore great pleasure in laying before the Society all the particulars available relating to several specimens captured on various

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parts of our coast, and hope to show that, even in the matter of “devil-fish,” New Zealand can hold her own.

1. The first to which I will direct your attention was cast ashore at Waimarama, East Coast. For the following description I am indebted to Mr. F. H. Meinertzhagen, who also very kindly presented me with the beak.

Writing from Waimarama on 27th June last, Mr. Meinertzhagen says:—“In answer to yours of the 9th, I will furnish you with all particulars of the large cuttlefish found here. I must first tell you that it was obtained in 1870 (September), during my absence in England; the beak was secured for me, which I forward to you by post, and which is quite at your disposal. I enclose also the measurements, made by a friend of mine on whom I could rely, and an extract from his letter written to me at the time, which letter, though quite unscientific, seems to me to give a vivid idea of the dead Octopus. ‘The beast had eight tentacles, as thick as a man's leg at the roots; horrid suckers on the inside of them, from the size of an ounce bullet to that of a pea at the tip; two horrid goggle eyes; and a powerful beak between the roots of the arms. His head appeared to slip in and out of a sheath. Altogether he was a most repulsive-looking brute. All the natives turned out to see him; and the old men say it is a ‘taniwha’—a ‘wheke’ of that size never having been seen by them. They say that a ‘taniwha’ of this description attacked and swamped a canoe on its way to Otago; in fact, they do not hesitate to say that this is the identical animal that did the deed! They also say that these large “whekes” are very apt to seize a man and tear his inside out. No more sea-bathing for me!’ Besides the above extract, I forward a little ink-sketch and measurements made by my friend.”

The sketch represents an animal much the same shape as shown in the drawing now before you, but with only eight arms. Length from tip of tail to root of arms, 10 feet 5 inches. Circumference, 6 feet. Length of arms, 5 feet 6 inches.

2. The beak of number 2 was deposited in the Colonial Museum by Mr. A. Hamilton; the animal was captured at Cape Campbell by Mr. C. H. Robson, a member of this society, who very kindly furnished me with the following information. Writing on the 19th June, 1879, he says:—

“In reply to yours of the 12th, about the cuttlefish, I may state that, while stationed at Cape Campbell, I found several specimens of large size, all, however, more or less mutilated, except one, the beak of which I gave to Mr. Hamilton; it was alive, and quite perfect, the body being 7 feet long, eight sessile arms 8 feet long, and two tentacular arms 12 feet. I am, however, only writing from memory. Mr. Hamilton has the exact measurements, and I remember distinctly that the total length was close on 20 feet.”

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I am sorry to say that Mr. Hamilton has mislaid the notes and measurements, but those given above cannot be far out.

3. On 23rd of May last, the Ven. Archdeacon Stock very kindly sent me word that three boys, named Edward R. Stock, and Frank and Walter Morrah, had that morning discovered, at Lyall Bay, what they took to be a very large cuttlefish, with arms several feet long. I lost no time in proceeding to the spot, determined, if possible, to carry home the entire specimen; but judge my surprise when, on reaching the bay, I saw an animal of the size represented in the drawing now before you.* Victor Hugo's account of his “pieuvre” was brought vividly to my mind, and I could not help thinking that a man would stand but a poor chance if he once got within the grasp of such a monster.

My first step after spreading out the arms, was to make a rough sketch and very careful measurements. I then proceeded to extract the so-called skeleton, but found that some person or persons, who had visited the spot earlier than myself, had not been able to resist the temptation to try the temper of their knives upon its back, and had in consequence severed the cuttle-bone in various places. However, I was able, not only to procure all the pieces, but also the beak, tongue, and some of the suckers, only a few of which remained, the greater portion of them having been torn off, either in some fierce encounter, or during the rough weather which had prevailed for some days previously.

The length of body from tip of tail to anterior margin of the mantle was 9 feet 2 inches and 7 feet 3 inches in circumference; the head from anterior margin of mantle to roots of arms 1 foot 11 inches, making the total length of the body 11 feet 1 inch. The head measured 4 feet in circumference. The sessile arms measured 4 feet 3 inches in length, and 11 inches in circumference; each of these arms bore thirty-six suckers, arranged in two equal rows (as shown by the scars), and measuring from 13/15 to 1/4 of an inch in diameter; every sucker was strengthened by a bony ring armed with from forty to sixty sharp incurved teeth. The tentacular arms had been torn off at the length of 6 feet 2 inches, which was probably less than half their original length.

The fins were posterior, and were mere lateral expansions of the mantle, they did not extend over the back as in the case with Onychoteuthis, etc.; each measured 24 inches in length and 13 inches in width.

The cuttle bone, when first extracted, measured 6 feet 3 inches in length, and 11 inches in width, but has since shrunk considerably; it was broadly lanceolate, with a hollow conical apex 1 1/8 inch deep.

4. Another specimen, measuring 8 feet in length, was lately caught by a fishing party, near the Boulder Bank, at Nelson, concerning which I have

[Footnote] * The paper was illustrated by drawings showing the animal life-size.

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only seen a newspaper cutting, and have not been able to obtain particulars.

5. A fifth was found by Mr. Moore, near Flat Point, East Coast. A description was sent to Mr. Beetham, M.H.R., who, I believe, intends communicating it to this Society.

It will be seen by the above notice that there are at least two species of “Giant Cephalopods” on our coast, as the Waimarama specimen had only eight arms, while those captured at Cape Campbell and Wellington were true Decapods.

I would take this opportunity of recording my thanks to the three young gentlemen who brought news into town of the stranding of the Lyall Bay specimen.