Have You Seen the Long Island Sound's Giant Squid?

They say the first thing that hits you is the horrible smell.

They say the first thing that hits you is the horrible smell. One old salt put it this way: “Just think of a thousand cans of cat food rotting in the sun; that’s how bad it stinks.”

Then you see it — this beast — this squid-like sea thing of leviathan proportions that plies the waters of Long Island Sound.

Lately, the sightings have increased, but fearing ridicule, few witnesses are willing to talk about it on the record. The US Coast Guard and other officials have issued denials, raising conspiracy theories of a governmental coverup.

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Nevertheless, the reports have rekindled scientific interest in an all-but-forgotten legend going back to the early days of the Algonquin Indians, who chronicled the existence of a ferocious sea monster that ruled the waters of the Sound long before it became a playground for weekend sailors. Accounts of the monster date back to the days of the first explorers of the New World, but these testimonies were dismissed out of hand.

Now, the so-called experts are reconsidering these “big fish” stories, prompted by modern anecdotal evidence.

Wally “Bull” Gwano of Mamaroneck, who has fished up and down the 110-mile Sound for nearly 60 years, told me he was fishing for menhaden one day last summer when he noticed in the light of the setting sun a silhouette of a creature with long feelers, or tentacles, emerge from the water about 10 feet off his starboard bow. Stopping the boat’s engine, he stared in disbelief into a pair of yellow eyes that looked like “lanterns you’d find in a coal mine.” He fumbled for his cellphone, to snap a picture, but just as he had the shot lined up, the boat was hit by the squid’s wake and the phone was knocked overboard. The beast emitted a great yawning belch, which exposed what appeared to be bloody shreds of flesh hanging from its sharp, stalagmite-size teeth.

The fisherman said, “The sucker was so big that if you cooked it in mushrooms and lemon sauce, it could feed calamari to a small village for a year.”

Another report came from an excursion boat out of City Island that was hosting a speed-dating weekend for adults. Three unidentified women standing on the deck told police they watched in horror as the creature rose from the murky depths and violently slapped its mighty conical shell against the boat’s hull. They estimated the surly beast to be an “impressive” 100 feet long but admitted they had had a few drinks and could’ve been “off a few feet.”

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Stories abound but are rarely verified. In 1988, archaeologists on Davids’ Island discovered an ancient Indian pictograph showing a giant squid devouring an entire canoe; they dismissed it as an early example of adolescent graffiti.

P. Harry Namsier, author of the 1912 book Legends of the Deep, mentions early English explorers who sailed past “Lange Eyland” and noted in a ship’s log “ye greate and terrybel jellye fysh.” In those days, the Sound was called “The Devils Belt,” supposedly because of its hazardous rocks, but Namsier theorized that the devil in question was really the giant orthocone.

A balloonist floating off Rye Beach in 1897 told a local weekly newspaper that he saw the creature but later retracted the story after being hooted at. He said the high altitude and a lunch of bad clams caused him to hallucinate.

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In 1942, the creature was sighted off Block Island. Skeptics said it was more likely a German submarine.

Marine biologists and oceanographic experts have scoffed at such tales, ranking their credibility well below that of other aquatic creatures of myth — Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster and Champ, the serpent of Lake Champlain. But now they are changing their tune.

“This is definitely worth checking out,” says Dr. Martin Brody, who specializes in mollusk study at the Old Saybrook Institute of Ocean Studies. “My theory is that it’s a giant orthocone, a carnivorous creature from the late Ordovician and early Silurian periods. Hell, we thought it disappeared 400 million years ago.”

Brody says the monster may live exclusively in the Sound because of its unique saline density and resistance to hypoxia, a condition of oxygen depletion cause by pollution. Furthermore, he says, there are signs that it may breed within fissures in the Sound’s bed, but he declined to give any details.

“I’d love to dissect one of those suckers. But to catch one,” he adds, “I’d need a bigger boat.”                        

The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers, and in this case an obvious — we hope — April Fools prank. Tell us what you think at edit@westchestermagazine.com.


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