Sea monsters like the giant squid (average length: 33 feet) don’t just spring, fully formed, into the dark depths. They have to start small—though small is relative. 

One example: In 2013, three giant squid babies (that is, juvenile giant squid) found in Japanese waters were initially mistaken for adults of another species. The fishermen who hauled in the trio—one off the coast of Kyushu and two in the Sea of Japan—thought there was something fishy about their catch. They took pictures of the squid on the decks of their boats, then delivered the frozen specimens to a local aquarium. 

Image Credit: Hiroyoshi Terakado

The aquarium called Toshifumi Wada, a squid expert at the University of Hyogo. He knew instantly that he was looking at something special. At 24, 58, and 64 inches long, respectively, the three squid were the same size as common squid adults. But their arms were longer than adults’ should have been, and their suckers were arranged differently. These were babies, Wada realized. Big, big babies.

Sequencing of the squids’ mitochondrial DNA confirmed his theory: the three specimens were baby Architeuthis dux, or giant squid. Wada published his findings in a recent issue of the journal Marine Biodiversity Records.

Giant squid are the world's largest invertebrate, with the largest one ever found measuring 43 feet from the top of its head to the end of its tentacles. The creatures' eyes are the size of dinner plates, and they’ve been known to take out sperm whales. Historians believe the giant squid’s rubbery, gargantuan arms may be the inspiration for sea monster stories around the world. But while researchers first captured an adult giant squid in its natural habitat on camera in 2012, little is known about how juveniles live and eat. The two specimens from the Sea of Japan were caught near one another, which was surprising, since scientists believe the squid mostly keep to themselves.  

“These are really important specimens,” Wada told VICE in a recent interview. He suspects these are not the first giant squid babies ever caught—they’re just the first identified. “It’s likely they usually get chucked overboard, or perhaps eaten by fishermen” who don’t realize what they have, he added.

The squid babies are slated for public display in Japanese aquariums, and Wada is eager for people to see them, he told VICE. “It would be great to spread more awareness about giant squid babies among fishermen so we can gather more specimens in museums and aquariums and understand how these babies live and behave.”