Globsters    Globsters!


by John Moore

The St. Augustine Giant Octopus

On November 30, 1896, two young boys, Herbert Coles and Dunham Coretter, where bicycling along Anastasia Island. Their plan was to go to Matanzas Inlet. However, as they neared Crescent Beach, they discovered a giant carcass on the beach that was partially buried in the sand, so it had probably already been beached for several days. They thought that it was a whale.

St. Augustine Giant Octopus The next day, DeWitt Webb, founder and the president of the St. Augustine Scientific, Literary, and Historical Society, visited the carcass. The part of the carcass that was visible at that time was 18 feet long and 7 feet wide. The carcass was basically a fibrous mass. It was a very light pink. More importantly, Webb decided that the carcass was not a whale, but, was instead, a giant octopus.

On December 7, the first photographs of the carcass were made by Edgar Van Horn and Ernest Howatt. These do not survive, but drawings based on two of them do.The following day, Webb wrote letters to several people trying to get someone else to investigate the carcass.

Several days later, a man living in the area named Mr. Wilson, excavated around the carcass. He found what he claimed were several arms: "One arm was lying west of body, 23 feet long; one stump of arm, west of body, about 4 feet; three arms lying south of the body and from appearances attached to same (although I did not dig quite to body, as it was laid well down in the sand, and I was very tired), longest one measured over 32 feet, the other arms were 3 to 5 feet shorter." (1)

One of the letters that Webb had sent, the one he wrote to J.A. Allen, passed through several hands, eventually reaching A.E. Verrill, a scientist who helped to discover the giant squid Verrill published a note on the subject in the January 1897 issue of the American Journal of Science. He decided that the creature was not an octopus, but was, instead, a giant squid. If it was a squid, it would have been much larger than any known specimen of this creature. In an 1897 issue of the magazine Nautilus, Webb also called the creature a squid.

Webb continued to send material on the carcass to Verrill. In the January 3, 1897, issue of the New York Herald, Verrill announced that the carcass was a giant octopus, after all. However, the paper failed to state that Verrill had written the article.

In the February issue of the American Journal of Science, Verrill named the creature Octopus giganteus. However, Verrill also said: "It is possible that it may be related to Cirroteuthis [another kind of octopus], and in that case the two posterior stumps, looking like arms, may be the remains of the lateral fins, for they seem too far back for the arms, unless pulled out of position. On the other hand, they seem to be too far forward for fins. So that they are probably arms twisted out of their true position."(2)

Between January 9 and 15, the carcass washed out to sea. Fortunately, it washed back up, this time on Crescent Beach. If the "arms" found by Mr. Wilson ever existed, they had fallen off the carcass by this time.

In early January, Webb attempted to have the creature turned over. Even with a dozen men and strong tackle, he could only partially raise it.

In a January 17th letter to W.H. Dall, Curator of Mollusks at the National Museum, Webb wrote:

"Yesterday I took four horses, six men, 3 sets tackle, a lot of heavy planking, and a rigger to superintend the work and succeeded in rolling the Invertebrate out of the pit and placing it about 40 feet higher upon the beach, where it now rests on the flooring of heavy plank...on being straightened out to measure 21 feet instead of 18 ... A good part of the mantle or head remains attached near to the more slender part of the body ... The body was then opened for the entire length of 21 feet ... The slender part of the body was entirely empty of internal organs. And the organs of the remainder were not large and did not look as if the animal had been so long dead ... The muscular coat which seems to be all there is of the invertebrate is from two and three to six inches in thickness. The fibers of the external coat are longitudinal and the inner caudal fin or any appearance if there had been beak or head or eyes remaining ... no pen to be found nor any evidence of any bony structure whatever." (3)

No details of any of the internal organs that Webb supposedly found survive.

Webb also requested that either Dall or Verrill come to Florida to examine the carcass. However, neither of them could. However, on February 12, Webb shipped several samples of the carcass to Verrill and Dall.

Another article by Verrill about Octopus giganteus was published in the February 14, 1897 issue of the New York Herald. He speculated that it would have had tentacles over 100 feet long. He also suggested that it was killed in a fight with a sperm whale, and was partly eaten by this same whale, but was washed up by a storm.

On February 23, Verrill received the samples. His comments, written on the same day, appeared in the March 5 issue of Science: "These masses of integument are 3 to 10 inches thick, very tough and elastic, and very hard to cut. They are composed mainly of tough cords and fibers of white and elastic connective tissue, much interlaced. This structure resembles that of the blubber of some cetaceans. The creature could not possibly have been an Octopus. It was probably related to the whales, but how such a huge bag-like structure could be attached to any known whale is a puzzle that I am unable to solve at present. The supposition that it was the body of an Octopus was partly based upon its bag-like form and partly upon the statements made to me that stumps of large arms were attached to it at first. This last statement was certainly untrue."(4)

Verrill restated these views in another Science article, with a commentary by F.A. Lucas, who said, "The substance looks like blubber, and smells like blubber and it is blubber, nothing more nor less."(5)

Verrill later said that it was probably a sperm whale. However, he also admitted that it was possible to criticize his hypothesis: "If we could imagine a sperm whale with the head prolonged far forward in the form of a great blunt, saccular snout, freely projecting beyond the upper jaw, and with a great central cavity, it might, if detached and eroded by the surf, present an appearance something like the mass cast ashore. It hardly seems possible, however, that the abruptly truncated and narrow snout of the common sperm whale could take on, even after being long tossed about by the waves, a form like this. No whaler who has seen it has recognized it as any part of a whale. It does not seem possible to identify such a large, hollow, pear-shaped sac, 21 feet long, with any part of an ordinary sperm whale unless its nose had become enlarged and distorted by disease, or possibly by extremely old age. No blowhole was discovered."(6)

Other scientists, even after having examined the tissue samples, continued to think that it was a giant octopus. Verrill also may have had doubts about his whale hypothesis. It is unknown what Dall thought about the subject.

In any case, the carcass, having washed out to sea and come back to the shore another time, was dragged 6 miles to a railroad and enclosed in a fence. What happened to it after this remains unknown. Verrill's specimens were lost during a move of Yale's Peabody Museum. Only Dall's specimens at the Smithsonian were left.

Despite occasional mentions, the carcass was basically forgotten until 1957. In 1957, Forrest G. Wood came across a newspaper clipping about the carcass in the files of the Marineland Research Laboratory. Wood the proceeded to rediscover what we now know about the carcass. (Gary Mangiacopra and others have also played an important role in this.)

Joseph F. Gennaro, Jr., went to the Smithsonian to get some pieces of the tissue for analysis. The tissue was so tough that to cut off two finger-sized pieces, Gennaro dulled 4 knife blades. The toughness of this carcass was nothing new. In a letter to Verrill, Webb said, "The hood is so tough that when it is exposed to the air, an axe makes very little impression on it."(7)

Gennaro prepared slides of the Octopus giganteus tissue, as well as octopus and squid. Unfortunately, Gennaro found that no cellular material had survived in the Octopus giganteus tissue. There was not very much cellular material in the octopus or squid tissue either. However, differences in the connective tissue patterns of the squid and octopus samples became readily visible:

"In the octopus, broad bands of fibers passed across the plane of the tissue and were separated by equally broad bands arranged in a perpendicular direction. In the squid there were narrower but also relatively broad bundles arranged in the plane of the section, separated by thin partitions of perpendicular fibers...I could distinguish between octopus and squid, and between them and mammals, which display a lacy network of connective tissue fibers.... Viewing section after section of the St. Augustine samples, we decided at once, and beyond any doubt, that the sample was not whale blubber. Further, the connective tissue pattern was that of broad bands in the plane of the section with equally broad bands arranged perpendicularly, a structure similar to, if not identical with, that in my octopus sample...the St. Augustine monster was in fact an octopus ..."(8)

Both Wood and Gennaro agreed thatOctopus giganteus is a true octopus. But if there was a dead octopus, were would the live ones live?

In 1956, Wood had been working on Grand Bahama Island. He had been working with a local fishing guide named Duke. Duke had previously shown that he knew a lot about the native fish. One evening, Wood asked Duke about giant scuttles. "Scuttle" is the Bahamian word for octopus, and Wood had heard about giant scuttles while working in Bimini several years before this.

Duke knew of 3 sightings, the most recent of which took place about 10 years before this (i.e., around 1946). He said that their tentacles could be 75 feet long. (If Octopus giganteus was a normal octopus, it probably had 100 foot long tentacles.) They ordinarily lived in deep water, but would come into shallower water if they were sick or dying. They were not dangerous to fisherman unless they could reach the boat with one tentacle and the bottom with another.

The commissioner of Grand Bahama Island had also had a giant scuttle encounter. When he was about 12 years old, he had been fishing with his father off Andros Island. His father had hooked something, which he originally assumed to be the bottom. However, he could still pull up his line, but only slowly. Finally, at the bottom of the line they saw a giant octopus. It detached itself from the hook and clinged to the bottom of their boat. Fortunately, it soon dropped from their boat and went away. The event had taken place so long ago that the commissioner would not estimate its size.

It turns out that there were other, similar reports from Andros Island, where it is also called the lusca. It lives in blue holes. They can be up to 200 feet deep. Luscas are often blamed for losses of ships. However, there are also whirlpools in blue holes, so these accounts may not be related to true octopuses. Other people from Andros Island report the lusca stealing people off of ships. It is also quite possible that the lusca is a giant squid. If Octopus giganteus did live in the blue holes, it would need a food source. Interestingly, several divers who have been in the blue holes report seeing giant crustaceans. Ordinary octopuses like to eat crustaceans and mollusks.

The Tasmanian Globster

In August 1960, Ben Fenton, Jack Boote, and Ray Anthony were rounding up cattle near the Interview River in western Tasmania. They came across a large carcass. It was 20 feet long and 18 feet wide.

Tasmanian Globster Although Fenton tried to get people interested in the carcass, nobody examined it until March 1962. Then Hobart businessman G.C. Cramp funded an expedition consisting of Bruce Mollison, Max Bennett, L.E. Wall, and J.A. Lewis.

Between the time of its discovery and the expedition, the carcass drifted northward with the tide. It is unclear whether or not the carcass decomposed during this time. Fenton said that the carcass had "no smell, no sign of decomposition, and the skin was as hard as ever."(9)

However, Boote said, "By the time they got there, the thing had decomposed."(10)

According to The Mercury (of Hobart), "a strong acidic reek came off the flesh, very similar to battery acid, and dogs and horses were unwilling to approach it."(11)

The first thing in the expedition was an air search to locate the carcass. They found it, and the main team left on March 2. They first contacted Cramp, by telephone, on March 7. Nobody on the team could identify the carcass. A description of it appeared on March 9, in The Mercury:

"ABOUT 20ft. long, 18ft. wide and about 4 1/2 ft. thick, with an estimated weight of between five and 10 tons. ... The part exposed was hard and rubbery and in an extremely good state of preservation. ... The party described it in general outline as like a huge turtle, without appendages. It was initially covered with fine hair, described by stockmen as being like sheep's wool, with a greasy feel. ... The animal had a hump of about four feet in front and tapered gradually to about six inches to what they presumed to the back. There were five or six gill-like hairless slits on each side of the fore part. There were four large hanging lobes in the front, and between the center pair was a smooth, gullet-like orifice. The margin of the hind part had cushion like protuberances about 2ft. wide by 18in. deep, and each of these carried a single row of spines, sharp, and hard, about as thick as a pencil and quill-like. There was no appearance of eyes or other organs. ... They made a deep incision in the high part and encountered a resilient flesh which appeared to be composed of numerous tendon-like threads welded together in a fatty substance. At no stage in the investigation did they encounter any bone material ... It was obviously exteremely durable and had withstood the weather particularly well.(12)

Over the next 10 days, the carcass became famous throughout the world. By this time, it was called the "globster." One scientist, A.M. Clark, speculated that the carcass was a giant ray. Ivan T. Sanderson suggested that it was from outer space. After the expedition returned, Mollison returned to the carcass to collect samples. This was not easy, as the carcass was extremely tough and hard to cut. Before long, questions about the creature were being asked in the Australian Parliament. The government decided to mount another expedition.

This expedition consisted of John H. Calaby, A.M. Olsen, Eric R. Guiler, and W. Bryden. None of the scientists on the original expedition were included on the government's expedition. The expedition lasted only 2 days, March 17-18. On their return, they submitted a report to Senator John Gorton, who would later become Australian prime minister.

Several of this team's observations contradicted those of the earlier expedition's. They said that the carcass was 8 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 10 inches thick (compared to 20, 18, and 4 1/2 feet, respectively, for the earlier expedition). They also did not find any spines. The government's team said that, "it is not possible to specifically identify it from our investigations so far. But our investigations lead us to believe that the so-called monster is a decomposing portion of a large marine animal. It is not inconsistent with blubber."(13)

However, later that day, Senator Gorton declared, "In layman's language, and allowing for scientific caution, this means that your monster is a large lump of decomposing blubber, probably torn off a whale."(14)

Before long, the carcass was entirely forgotten. However, according to an analysis of the tissue samples, the carcass was made up largely of collagen. Collagen is a substance that is found in cartilage, bone, connective tissue, or any other places in an animal that need to be especially stiff.

In March 1965, another globster would be found, but this time in New Zealand at Muriwai Beach. It was 30 feet long and 8 feet high.

The head of the zoology department of Auckland University, J.E. Morton, said, "The object has a tough quarter-inch thick hide. Under this is what appears to be a layer of fat, then solid meat. Hair four to six inches long covers its length. Cut from the hide and washed clean, the hair has a soft wooly texture."(15)

According to J. Robb, the creature was not covered with hair, but rather fibers of connective tissue. This was, in Robb's opinion, the remains of blubber, and the carcass was a whale, possibly a humpback whale.

In 1970, a second Tasmanian globster washed up. It was discovered by the same Ben Fenton who was connected with the 1960 find. It was found a few miles south of Sandy Cape. Fenton said that it was 8 feet long and was humped. He also said, "This is a comparatively fresh specimen of whatever it is, and probably could still be identified with certainty."(16)

It is unknown what happened to this carcass.

Meanwhile, what was left of the Florida Octopus giganteus was still being studied. (By this time, only Gennaro's samples survived. The rest of the Smithsonian's specimens were lost in a move.)

Gennaro had done some chemical analysis on the tissue, and concluded that it was made of collagen, like the first Tasmanian globster. He also stated that the type of collagen found in Octopus giganteus is not present in squids, but it is present in octopuses. Also, if the creature was made of collagen, this could account for the fact that it was so hard to cut.

As was stated above, large crustaceans were found in the possible Octopus giganteus habitat of the blue holes. In 1984, John P. Ingham, a deep sea fisherman, also found very large crabs and shrimps off Bermuda. They would also be a good size for Octopus giganteus to eat.

On August 29, 1984, Ingham brought another trap that was full of these large crustaceans to the surface. But there was something else, that was very heavy, attached to the trap. Whatever it was was heavy enough to break the line that was holding up the trap. The trap then sank.

On September 3, about a mile away, Ingham lost another trap when the line broke again. This trap was about half way up.

On September 16, Ingham encountered the creature again. He could only bring up his trap very slowly. When he looked at his sonar, it showed "a pyramid shape approximately 50 feet high" (17)

Around 20 minutes later, whatever it was was dragging his boat along at a speed of around 1 knot. Ingham said that during this time, "I put my hand down close to the rope at water level, and could distinctly feel thumps like something was walking, and the vibrations were traveling up the rope." (18)

Then, suddenly, the creature let go, and Ingham brought the trap to the surface. It was slightly beng on one side.

Both Ingham and F.G. Wood, who rediscovered Octopus giganteus, believe that the creature was an octopus.

During this time, the National Geographic Society had a boat in the area, and was filming deep sea sharks. They would have investigated the incidents and tried to film the creature, but they lost their camera in an accident and this was not possible.

Ingham had other encounters with the creature in 1985, but the details of these have not been published. He has since moved his fishing company to Belize.

In 1986, Roy P. Mackal published the results of a biochemical study of the Florida Octopus giganteus carcass. Mackal analyzed two species of whales, the spotted dolphin and beluga whale, giant squid (Architeuthis dux), as well as Octopus giganteus, for amino acid composition. He also analyzed them for their content of copper and iron.

Both Octopus giganteus and the giant squid have a lot of glycine (an amino acid) in them. This means that they have a lot of collagen in them. Octopus giganteus also has more glycine in it than the giant squid. Smaller octopuses and squid have less glycine in them, so this means that they would have less collagen than their larger relatives. Mackal points out that "since squids (including A. dux), in contrast to octopuses, have some rudimentary internal cartilaginous structural plates in addition to the chitinous vestigial pen, somewhat lesser amounts of collagen may be required to maintain their structural integrity than are required by octopuses of comparable size." (19)

Also, according to Mackal, whale blubber does not contain very much collagen, so Octopus giganteus could probably not be that. However, the spermaceti tank of sperm whales does contain a lot of collagen.

Cephalopods do not use the respiratory pigment hemoglobin (which contains iron). Their tissues would be expected to have less iron than the tissues of whales, which do use hemoglobin. The iron content of Octopus giganteus is lower than the spotted dolphin and the beluga whale. However, the iron content of the giant squid is higher than that of the beluga whale, but lower than that of the spotted dolphin. The copper content of both tissues is also lower than that of the whales.

While Mackal's analysis is not conclusive, it does support the cephalopod identification of Octopus giganteus.

Also in 1986, Bernard Heuvelmans suggested that Verrill had been correct when he said that Octopus giganteus could be related to Cirroteuthis, because two of the so-called tentacles could actually be fins. Cirroteuthis get its name from the hair-like cirri that fringe its suckers. Michel Raynal pointed out that this could account for the fact that the lusca is sometimes called "him of the hairy hands." He also proposed to change the generic name of Octopus giganteus to Otoctopus, but this has not been formally described.

The Bermuda Blob

In May 1988, Teddy Tucker found another strange carcass, but this time in the Mangrove Bay of Bermuda. It was soon named the Bermuda Blob. The carcass was about 8 feet long. Tucker described the carcass as "2 1/2 to 3 feet thick ... very white and fibrous, with five 'arms or legs,' rather like a disfigured star." (20)

Burmuda Blob It had no bones, cartilage, visible openings, or odor. It, like Octopus giganteus and the first Tasmanian globster, was very hard to cut. Fortunately, Tucker preserved specimens of the carcass. Shortly after he removed these pieces, the carcass floated back out to sea. It has not been seen since.

All of these carcasses have several things in common. All of them were "hairy" or fibrous. They were white or a similar color. If they were cut, this was very difficult. If any tissue samples were ever analyzed, they were found to be made of collagen.

However, it is impossible to imagine the drawings of the first Tasmanian globster as coming from a creature even remotely resembling an octopus. However, the drawings might not be accurate, the carcass might have decayed significantly, the carcass might not be related to the Florida specimen, or the Florida specimen might not be from an octopus, either.

The results of another study of the tissue of globsters, this time of Octopus giganteus and the Bermuda Blob, were published in 1995 by Sidney K. Pierce, Gerald N. Smith, Jr., Timothy K. Maugel, and Eugenie Clark. To study the tissue, they determined its amino acid content, and looked at it through an electron microscope. Both methods indicated that both carcasses were composed largely of collagen. Collagen fibers are banded. The banding patterns of both of the globsters were the same as that of rat tail tendon collagen. The banding pattern of Octopus giganteus collagen was identical to that of whale blubber, but very different from that of octopus collagen. However, they prepared all of these samples with different methods, and the banding patterns could have been altered.

Where the collagen fibers were located within the carcass was also important. They say, "The organization of the collagen fiber bundles in the two relic samples is typical of dermis from a number of vertebrate groups, including fish, amphibians, and reptiles ... A similar layering pattern of the collagen fibers was nowhere to be found in the octopus mantle tissue we examined here. Instead, the octopus mantle is composed mainly of a complex network of muscle fibers containing only small amounts of widely dispersed collagen fibers, as might be expected of an animal so capable of shape-changing. We found absolutely nothing in the octopus mantle morphology that was comparable to the collagen fiber arrangement in the two carcasses, nor has anything similar been reported in squid or cuttlefish mantle ... In contrast, the similarity between the layering pattern of the collagen fiber support matrix of the humpback whale blubber and the fiber pattern in the carcasses is quite obvious. In addition, unlike the octopus mantle, but very much like the Florida and Bermuda tissues, collagen fibers are the main component of the blubber." (21)

It is interesting to note that they say that blubber has a lot of collagen in it, while Mackal said that it does not have very much. Although they used different species, Pierce, Smith, Maugel, and Clark say that whale blubber is 32.6% glycine (the amino acid typical of collagen), while Mackal says that it is 14.2% glycine.

They also say that the collagen fiber diameters of both carcasses are similar to those of mammals and birds.

The Octopus giganteus has an extremely high level of proline--16.8%. This is another amino acid characteristic of collagen. However, invertebrate collagen does not have as much proline as endothermic (warm-blooded) vertebrate collagen. (For example, collagen from squids is 9.6% proline, while collagen from humans is 12.8% proline.) The proportions of various amino acids in the Bermuda Blob are characteristic of ectothermic (cold-blooded) vertebrate collagen. Pierce, Smith, Maugel, and Clark conclude that the Octopus giganteus carcass is whale blubber and that the Bermuda blob is the skin of some fish, possibly a shark. They say, "Altogether, and with profound sadness at ruining a favorite legend, we find no basis for the existence of Octopus giganteus." (22)

However, Richard Ellis points out difficulties in this explanation. It would be difficult for the entire coat of blubber on a whale to come off in one piece. (When whales would remove the blubber from a dead whale, they would peel it off in strips.) Also, no fish skin is thick enough to form anything the size of the Bermuda Blob.

It should also be said that the amino acid composition of tissue could be changed after being kept in formalin for nearly 100 years. Even for the short time that the Bermuda Blob had been in preservatives, its composition could also have been changed.

In conclusion, it can be said that we are still uncertain what the globsters really are.


  1. Quoted in Verrill (1897c), p. 355.
  2. Verrill (1897b), p. 163.
  3. Quoted in Mangiacopra (1976, part 1), p. 4.
  4. Verrill (1897d), p. 392.
  5. Lucas (1897), p. 476.
  6. Verrill (1897c), p. 356.
  7. Quoted in Ellis (1994), p. 319.
  8. Gennaro (1971), p. 84.
  9. Quoted in Anon. (1988), p. 4.
  10. Quoted in Anon. (1988), p. 5.
  11. Quoted in Ellis (1994), p. 314.
  12. Quoted in Ellis (1994), p. 314.
  13. Quoted in Anon. (1988), p. 4.
  14. Quoted in Anon. (1988), p. 5.
  15. 1Quoted in Dinsdale (1972), p. 159.
  16. Quoted in Anon. (1988), p. 6.
  17. Quoted in Anon. (1984), p. 3.
  18. Quoted in Anon. (1984), p. 3.
  19. Mackal (1986), pp. 60-61.
  20. Quoted in Ellis (1994), p. 317.
  21. Pierce et al. (1995), pp. 228-229.
  22. Pierce et al. (1995), p. 229.


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Wood, F.G. 1971b: In Which Bahamian Fisherman Recount Their Adventures with the Beast. Natural History March.

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