Researcher claims he has proof that the kraken was a real beast

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Nov 1, 2013, 5:15 PM EDT (Updated)

Was the legendary sea monster actually a real ancient creature? At least one researcher thinks so.

Mark McMenamin, a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, has been working for years to prove to other scientist that the kraken was a real ancient creature, a "school bus-sized" giant squid that was a fierce predator. This week, at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting, he presented new evidence to back up his claim in the form of a fossil that dates to about 218 million years ago. The fossil is only a few inches long and not a complete body part, but McMenamin believes that he's found "the tip of the beak of the Triassic kraken." 



McMenamin believes the creature once attached to this beak piece was somewhere between 50 and 100 feet long, making it potentially more than twice as large as modern giant squids (which are believed to max out at 40 feet in length). That particular claim has yet to be backed up by other researchers, but some scientists find the fact that McMenamin has some form of fossil evidence to be encouraging.

"If we have a fossil pen, then that is good—we can compare it to other fossils and discuss what sort of squid it once belonged to," paleontologist David Fastovsky of the University of Rhode Island said. "I think most paleontologists would think that would be great."

But McMenamin's claims are a bit weirder than simply arguing that he's found fossilized evidence of a giant kraken. He also believes, and has claimed at previous Geological Society meetings, that this creature made "art" in its lair, arranging the bones of its prey into calculated mosaics. McMenamin bases this claim on both an exhibit he saw decades ago at the Nevada State Museum and the discovery he claims his team made in 2011 of a kraken's lair that included a very particular arrangement of nine bones from an ichthyosaur's backbone. Understandably, Fastovsky calls this claim a bit far-fetched, and notes that it's his opinion that the bone arrangement McMenamin claims was created by a kraken could also easily have been generated by currents moving the bones around over time.

"It is one thing to claim the discovery of a large, ancient squid. But going beyond that takes us far away from what most paleontologists would see as reasonable," Fastovsky said.

Other paleontologists were not so kind. Donald Prothero of Occidental College in Los Angeles warned against taking McMenamin's claims too seriously simply because he presented them at a professional meeting.

In a written statement, Prothero said McMenamin "has mined this unreviewed [meeting] abstract for LOTS of free publicity, and gullible reporters think that his work has passed muster because it's presented at these meetings." While journalists might consider McMenamin's presentations scholarly, Prothero claims that his colleagues simply don't.

"But NOT ONE scientist at these meetings takes him seriously," he said.

So, while it's possible that someone will verify McMenamin's claim that he's found a kraken sculpture, the nature of his claims means that the scientific community is still rather skeptical.

(Via National Geographic)