Another record of a giant calamary, which appears to be well authenticated, occurs in the ' Annals and Magazine of Natural History,' fourth series, vol. 13. There the Rev. M. Harvey described how three fishermen of St. John's, Newfoundland, found the horrible monster entangled in their herring net. They succeeded in killing it, and had to cut off its head before they could drag it into their boat. Mr. Harvey purchased the remains and photographed them. The body was eight feet in length and five in circumference. The mouth of the creature was shaped like that of a bird and about the size of a man's fist. The two longest arms measured twenty-four feet in length, but only three inches in circumference. Each of the short arms was six feet in length. Mr. Harvey drew a powerful picture of an unfortunate being seized by this great creature. ' No fate,' said he, ' could be more horrible than to be entwined in the embrace of those eight clammy, corpse-like arms, and to feel their folds creeping and gliding around you, and the eight hundred discs, with their cold adhesive touch, glueing themselves to you with a grasp which nothing could relax, and feeling like so many mouths devouring you at the same time. Slowly the horrible arms, supple as leather, strong as steel, and cold as death, draw their prey under the horrible beak, and press it against the glutinous mass which forms the body. The cold, slimy grasp paralyses the victim with terror, and the powerful mandibles rend and devour'.
The common cuttle of British waters (Sepia officinalis) is, apart from its shape, a beautiful creature with zebra-like markings, and of many colours—rich brown, white, green, and rose. It is found all round our coasts, but it is more common in the south than in the north. It does not shun the light of day like the octopus—in fact, both it and the squid can be attracted at night by lanterns. Mr. Henry Lee thus charmingly describes it in his ' Aquarium Notes ' : ' Poised near the surface of the water, like a hawk in the air, the sepia moves gently to and fro in its tank by graceful undulations of its lateral fins, an exquisite play of colour taking place over its beautifully barred and mottled back. When thus tranquil, its eight pedal arms are usually brought close together, and droop in front of its head, like the trunk of an elephant shortened, its two longer tentacular arms being coiled up within the others unseen. Only when some small fish is given to it as food is its facility of rapid motion displayed. Then, quickly as a kingfisher darts upon a minnow, it pounces on its prey, enfolds it in its fatal embrace, and retires to a recess of its abode to tear it piecemeal with its horny beak, and rend it into minutest shreds with its jagged tongue. In shallow water, however, it will often rest for hours on the bottom, after a heavy meal, looking much like a sleepy tortoise. The cuttle-fishes are so voracious that fishermen regard them as unwelcome visitors. Some localities on our own coast are occasionally so infested by them that the drift netting has to be abandoned, in consequence of their devouring the fish, or rendering them unsaleable by tearing them with their beaks as they hang in the meshes'.
On the whole, the cuttle is rather a nuisance in the aquarium, for, giving out a deluge of black ink, it frequently spoils the water of the tank. This ink, which was formerly used for writing purposes, is the sepia of artists. It is a curious fact that a very good pigment can be made from the ink bags of fossil decapods. As the sepia discharges its protective colouring fluid on the slightest provocation, it is difficult to understand how it came to acquiesce in the indignity of being fossilised without emptying its ink bag during the process.
There are about thirty species of these creatures altogether, but the cuttle of British waters is the one already described (Sepia officinalis).
In many places on the Continent and in Japan cuttles are used as food, either dried, salted, or cooked fresh, but, like the octopus, have to be beaten to render them tender. It is generally believed that conger are particular on this point, disdaining a piece of cuttle unless it has been treated in this way. The brilliant lenses of the eyes, which are hard and almost calcareous, are worn as ornaments in Italy, and the thick, chalky, internal shell was, after treatment, used as face powder by the ancients, and has been deemed of value for cleaning teeth. Finally it has reached its level, perhaps, between the bars of the canary's cage, where it is frequently seen.
Of the three characteristic head-footed fish I have mentioned, the little squid is certainly the most useful for bait. It is most readily obtained from the trawlers, who capture numbers in their nets. But where plentiful, both squid and the sepias are easily caught by means of a bait. It is desirable, however, to bear in mind that when gaffed (the gaff being a triangle of hooks at the end of a not too large stick) the cephalopod will, as likely as not, discharge his ink bag full in the face of his captor. The way to avoid this catastrophe—for it is little less — is by holding the creature beneath the water until the ink bag is emptied. Stale squid, except, perhaps, for bass, is of little use as bait, and I know no bait—lugs excepted—which gets 'high' quicker. At the same time, if cleaned, opened, wiped, and hung up in a very dry, airy place, these baits will sometimes dry hard, and can be kept for an indefinite period. They require to be soaked before being used. Slices can also be placed between layers of salt, and there is a belief—whether well founded or not, I do not know—that salted squid is all the better for being kept in the dark. It is often a good plan to place a small piece of squid on the shank of the hook, covering the bend and point with a mussel, so that, should the mussel get sucked or washed off, as is so often the case, the squid remains, and may lead to the capture of a fish. The tentacles and strips of squid or cuttle are excellent whining baits. The largest bass I ever hooked was on a piece of squid. The fish so astonished the little Welsh lad who was with me that he stood gaping at it with his mouth open instead of using the gaff, and the bass took advantage of the opportunity to kick off the hook.
More than once I have heard of this stuff being strongly recommended as a whiffing bait, long narrow strips of it being cut about the size of a large ragworm. It comes in the same category as pork-skin, pig's bladder, and the like.