The Giant Squid: The Creation of Monster


My presentation focuses on the monsterization process of a deep-sea dwelling animal, the giant squid. Today, the giant squid is usually understood as an animal that has evoked terror in humankind since the dawn of history and that the tales of these deep-sea monsters spread to the public domain from seafaring tales. In this presentation, I am going to demonstrate that this understanding is fallacious. I have studied the written and illustrated sources based on encounters and sightings of giant-sized squid such as diaries, letters, newspapers, published books, and logbooks of whaling vessels and other ships, and wrote a PhD thesis on the subject. At the moment, I am revising a book about the monsterization of the giant squid. The key results of my study is that squid defined today as belonging to the giant squid species were not widely understood as frightening and ugly animals in transatlantic culture until the last decades of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, the monsterization did not originate in seafaring tales, but the context of natural history. Although the enlightenment scholars wanted to remove all the unexplained and strange from nature, their studies created new monstrosities, from which the giant squid is an excellent example.


Otto Latva is a historian, who works as a head of research in the sea and maritime research unit at the University of Turku, Finland. He is specialized in human-animal studies and the historical perceptions of the sea environment. Latva has studied especially how humans have monsterized non-human nature and how they have exploited it. He has written various research and popular articles as well as a book about these themes. Latva’s PhD-thesis examined the monsterization of the giant squid in transatlantic culture from the 1760s to the 1890s.