M. Verany further states that the fishermen catch the large ones with the leister, or trident, and in summer the young Poülps are caught with a line weighted with lead, furnished with a cork fitted with several hooks, covered with pieces of scarlet cloth, twisted into thongs. He adds, that the largest Poülp he ever saw was about three yards long, and weighed nearly half a hundredweight, and was captured by a fisherman with his hands only. Poülps of thirty pounds weight are not rare at Nice, and those of twenty pounds are common.
Dr. J. H. Bennet has seen at Mentone a Poülp at least two metres in length, including the tentacles . . . and further adds, that a young Italian with whose family he was acquainted, and who was a first rate swimmer, nearly lost his life from the attack of one of these monsters, about a kilomètre from Leghorn. He was resting upon a rock covered with seaweed, after having swum a long time when a Poülp seized him and would certainly have dragged him into the water and killed him, if some fishermen who were in a boat had not heard his cries, and come to his assistance.*
Octopus vulgaris is rare on the British coast. I recollect that some years ago, one was found on the shore at Beachy Head, by two fishermen, who put it into a large bucket or tub, and took it round to most of the houses at Eastbourne for exhibition; and Mr. Gosse found one, in 1860, on the beach at Babbicombe. Dr. Spence, of Lerwick, in 1862, sent an account to Dr. Allman, Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh, of a huge cuttle-fish, which was thrown on shore somewhere on the Shetland Isles, its body measuring seven feet, and its arms sixteen feet in length. Very large Cephalopoda are found in the Pacific, and also in the Indian Seas, and are said to seize canoes, and drag them down; and woe betide the unfortunate bather should he happen to be taken in the grasp of one of these monsters; and on the authority of Sir Grenville Temple, in Beale's 'History of the Sperm Whale,' an anecdote is given, showing what happened in the Mediterranean to a Sardinian captain, who was bathing at Jerbeh. He felt one of his feet in the grasp of one of these animals, and tried with his other foot to disengage himself, but his limb was immediately seized by another of the monster's arms. He then endeavoured with his hands to free himself, but these also in succession were firmly grasped by the polypus, and the poor man was shortly found drowned, with all his limbs firmly bound together by the twining arms of the fish; and it is extraordinary, that where this happened, the water was scarcely four feet deep. Frédol, in 'Le Monde de la Mer,' states that the famous diver, Piscinola, who at the desire of the Emperor Frederick II., dived in the Straits of Messina, saw, with much alarm, enormous Poülps attached to the rocks, their arms several yards long, quite capable of destroying a man.
* 'La Méditerranée, La Riviere de Gênes et Menton,' par Jacques Henri Bennet.
Pliny gives a description of the dangerous powers of the polypus for destroying a human being in the water; embracing his body, it counteracts his struggles, and draws him under with its feelers, and its numerous suckers.* It is said that the fishermen at the present day, on the coast of Normandy, state that the polypus, which they call Chatrou (or La pieuvre), is a most formidable enemy to swimmers and divers, for when it has embraced the limbs with its tentacles, it adheres with such tenacity that it is quite impossible for a person to disengage himself, or to move any of his 1 rubs.*
* Pliny, 'Nat. Hist,' vol. ii. bk. ix. chap. 48, and note.
The common Octopus punctatus of the west coast of North America is the largest of its tribe hitherto studied; but the gigantic squids far exceed it in size, as we shall read presently. Mr. W.H. Dall, in the 'American Naturalist,' 1873, tells us that this species of Octopus occurs abundantly at Sitka and there reaches a length of sixteen feet on a radial spread of nearly twenty-eight feet, but the whole mass is much smaller than the decapodous (or ten-armed) cephalopods of lesser length. In the Octopus above mentioned, the body would not exceed six inches in diameter, and a foot in length, and the arms attain an extreme tenuity towards their lips. Dr. W. 0. Ayres informed Mr. Verrill, the writer of the above, that he has often seen this species exposed for sale in the markets of San Francisco, where it is eaten by the French, and that specimens with the arms six or seven feet long are common; and Professor W. H. Brewer states that he has seen specimens in the same markets which spread fourteen feet across the outstretched arms.†
The ten-armed Cephalopods, or Gigantic squids, attain larger dimensions than the Octopus, viz. the species of Architeuthis (a genus which is closely allied to Ommastrephes), Onychoteuthis robusta (or Lestoteuthis), as the following account taken from Mr. A. E. Verrill's 'The Cephalopods of the North-Eastern Coast of America,' will prove. He mentions the early literature of Natural History containing allusions to large species of Cephalopods, accompanied by more or less fabulous and usually exaggerated descriptions, as for instance the one given by old Eric Pontoppidan, which I shall quote further on. Professor Steenstrup, and Dr. Harting were the first to describe and figure these Gigantic squids scientifically. The American fishermen frequently meet with these big squids, in the waters of Newfoundland and the adjacent coasts; and the cod-fishermen who visit the Grand Banks, appear to have been long familiar with them, and occasionally to have captured and used them as bait. The whalemen state that the sperm whale feed upon huge squid, and that when wounded they often vomit large fragments of them in such a condition as to be recognizable,* and this statement is corroborated by Mr. R. Warrington, of Apothecaries' Hall, who informed Mr. H. Woodward that the test of the genuineness of "Ambergris" as imported, which is found in the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is, that it is full of the undigested beaks of the Calamary, upon which it feeds; and one of the "Delphinidae," the Hyperoodon, or Bottle-headed whale., is also said to feed upon cuttle-fishes, as Mr. W. Vrolik found in the stomach of one specimen about ten millions of the mandibles of a species of Loligo.†
* 'Life in Normandy,' note. - D. D.
† 'Cephalopods of the North Eastern Coast of America,' by A. E. Verrill, Part i. p. 252.