Given the fact that the majority of the ocean depths remain uncharted, there probably exist tens of thousands, if not millions, of unique species of animals that have yet to be discovered. Two such animals, both of which have remained the stuff of legend for centuries, are the sperm whale and the giant squid. These two deep-sea living giants are so rare that several aspects of them are shrouded in mystery. For example, scientists still disagree over the exact function(s) of “spermaceti” – a fluid from which the sperm whale gets its distinctive name.
The giant squid is even more mysterious and rarer still. All that is known about this giant squid with fascinating anatomy is based on observations of carcasses occasionally washing ashore or remnants often found in the sperm whale’s stomach. It is so rare that the first photograph of a live giant squid was not taken until 2004, and video footage until 2006, both in Japan. Given how rare these two gigantic animals are, a fight between a sperm whale and a giant squid has never been witnessed by anyone. But in this post, we will pit these two against each other and see who wins!
The giant squid and the sperm whale are both deep-sea dwellers, and both can be found in continental waters. The giant squid prefers to live around continental shelf slopes and island slopes. It is often found in the North Atlantic Ocean close to Norway and in the South Atlantic Ocean near South Africa. New Zealand and the islands of Japan are other places it has been seen. Like the giant squid, sperm whales also prefer tropical and subtropical waters, diving to depths of up to 3,300 feet (about 1,000 meters), where they often encounter the giant squid.
Size and Weight
Both the sperm whale and the giant squid are giants in their respective domains. While female sperm whales are large, males are even larger and sometimes weigh twice as much as females. Sperm whales generally have a length that measures between 50 and 60 feet (about 15 to 18 meters) and weigh between 30,000 to 40,000 kg (about 70,000 to 90,000 pounds). The female giant squid is visibly larger in size than the males. The size of the giant squid varies, with different sources providing different lengths.
It is also important to note that the two long feeding tentacles take up a significant portion of the body length. On average, giant squid measure approximately 33 feet (or 10 meters) and weigh about 400 pounds (around 180 kg). Some sources claim that the largest giant squid ever recorded was 43 feet or 13 meters in length. However, other sources claim that the largest-ever recorded giant squid, which washed ashore in New Zealand in 1887, measured a staggering 59 feet (or 18 meters) and weighed almost one ton. But it’s still debatable if these estimates are correct. Regardless, when measured by size and mass, the sperm whale would likely emerge as the winner.
With both the giant squid and the sperm whale inhabiting such an inhospitable environment, one might wonder what kinds of prey they feed on and if they both feed on similar prey. So, what does their diet look like? This question is essential because it has been observed that food is often a major cause of conflict between two different species that feed on the same prey and hunting grounds.
It is believed that giant squid often feed on deep-sea fishes, shrimps, and possibly even small whales and other squid. While the sperm whale also feeds on deep-sea fishes, its most preferred prey is the giant squid, which makes up two-thirds of its daily diet. This is, therefore, a classic example of the eater getting eaten. Sperm whales consume almost a ton (or about 2,000 lbs) of food a day! From these statistics alone, one can already guess which species would often emerge victorious if there were a showdown between the two.
From what little we know about the elusive giant squid, it has only one confirmed predator, and that is the sperm whale. When you grow as large as the giant squid and are armed with several teeth-lined suction cups, there are few predators that would dare consider you a delectable delicacy—except the sperm whale. The sperm whale pays a heavy price for choosing the giant squid as its favorite meal, as we will discuss later in this post. If the sperm whale is the predator of the giant squid, what animal is the natural predator of the sperm whale? Orcas are the primary natural predators of sperm whales, though they are known to sometimes be hunted by false killer whales and pilot whales. There is yet another apex predator that hunts both species, and that is none other than humans!
Another parameter by which we will compare these two apex predators is their level of intelligence. While it is rare to catch a live giant squid or sperm whale for a study of their brainpower, we can look at their close cousins. Squid are known to display an impressive level of intelligence, as seen in how they sometimes eject dark ink to obfuscate predators and even emit light to communicate with one another. With the giant squid possessing a bigger brain than every other known squid except the colossal squid, we can infer that it is an intelligent animal, although a larger brain may not necessarily equate to higher intelligence.
The intelligence of the sperm whale can also be inferred from its cousins, all of which belong to the cetacean family, including dolphins, whales, and porpoises. We are all familiar with the incredible intelligence of dolphins. They possess a level of self-awareness, recognizing themselves in mirrors, and are even used by the military to detect land mines in the sea. With the sperm whale having a much larger brain—the largest brain of all existing mammals—we can certainly say that it is a very intelligent animal. Its brain size is five times larger than that of a human.
Hunter Prowess and Conclusion
On occasions when the giant squid and the sperm whale meet, all of these factors come into play, including their respective arsenals and hunting strategies. The giant squid is agile and a good swimmer, but so is the sperm whale, which can attain speeds of up to 40 km/h (about 25 miles per hour). The giant squid has basketball-sized eyes that measure 30 cm (about 12 inches) in diameter. This helps the squid spot its mortal enemy—the sperm whale—from as far as 400 feet (or 120 meters) away despite the perpetual darkness of the ocean’s depths. Knowing this, the sperm whale has also evolved the ingenious use of precise echolocation, allowing it to pinpoint the location and size of the giant squid accurately.
Sperm whales have an enlarged auditory system. Thanks to the fact that sound travels four times faster in water than on land, the whales receive immediate and accurate feedback on their prey. A final factor is the attack/defense arsenal of both animals. Giant squid have strong jaws shaped like a parrot’s beak and two long tentacles with four rows of teeth-lined, powerful suction cups.
These suction cups are responsible for the round incisions often found on the skin of the sperm whale. The sperm whale packs a more impressive set of teeth. The lower jaw houses about 36 to 50 teeth, with each tooth weighing about 2 lbs (a bit less than 1 kg) and measuring about 18 to 20 cm (7 to 8 inches) long. The sperm whale has a fatal bite from which a giant squid would rarely survive. Therefore, the sperm whale almost always wins the fight whenever there is a battle with a giant squid which happens frequently since giant squid are its favorite prey.