Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
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Lusca

Illustration of a gigantic octopus by William Rebsamen.

Classification Cephalopoda
Proposed scientific names
Other names Giant scuttle, Him of the Hairy Hands, lucsa, luska
Sea reported Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea)
First reported 1863
Prominent investigators Bruce S. Wright
Forrest G. Wood
Gary S. Mangiacopra
Michel Raynal
Jeremy Wade

The lusca is a marine cryptid reported from the Caribbean Sea around the Bahamas, usually identified as a gigantic octopus or giant scuttle,[1][2] although folklore and some sightings alternatively describe it as an octopus-shark chimaera.[3] It is particularly associated with the blue holes↗, large and deep marine sinkholes, of the Bahamas, although they are also said to exist in "banana holes," brackish inland pools usually connected to the sea.[4][5] The lusca has been blamed locally for mysterious disappearances and deaths in these holes,[3] which have been the focus of several unsuccesful cryptozoological searches since the late 20th Century.

Sightings of similar giant octopuses have occured throughout the Caribbean Sea, and off Cuba, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Belize, and Mexico.[6] The lusca has also been associated strongly with the Octopus giganteus globster of Florida.[7]

Attestations[]

Although giant octopuses have been reported from the Bahamas since the 19th Century – J. S. George of Nassau reported in 1872 that giant octopuses "are known here, traditionally of immense size," but were rare[8] – detailed ethnoknowledge of the lusca was not disseminated until the middle of the 20th Century. The first description of giant scuttle lore from the Bahamas was published in 1957; it was alleged that "giant scuttle" with an exaggerated armspan of 200 ft (60 m) had been seen between Hole-in-the-Wall Key and Nassau, and that stories of scuttles with armspans of 60–80 ft (18–24 m) were not uncommon.[9] "Scuttle," derived from "cuttlefish," is a local term for octopuses.[7] During a stay on the island of Andros, marine biologist Bruce S. Wright was told by a local guide that some limestone caverns beneath a lake were home to a monster called the lusca, described as a large, half-octopus, half-dragon animal, with powerful, sucker-tipped tentacles, which lived in banana holes and blue holes.[10] These structures, found all over the Bahamas and off Belize, are connected; the large marine blue holes lead to the inland banana holes, which are therefore brackish, and home to certain marine animals such as sharks.[2][11][10] Wright's guide had never seen a lusca, but claimed that it was occasionally observed. Later, a fisherman told Wright that he had seen a "big dead scuttle," longer than his 18 ft (5 m) boat, floating on the surface of the sea the previous year. Wright's data was published in 1967.[10]

The lusca is alleged to live deep in the blue holes of the Caribbean Sea (Public Domain).

George J. Benjamin of Toronto, who had long experience scuba diving in the blue holes of Andros, also described the lusca in a 1970 National Geographic article. During the 1950s, one of his guides had warned him that the lusca, or "Him of the Hands," would kill him if he entered the oceanic blue holes, and regaled him with stories of luscas sinking ships and grabbing fishermen. Benjamin did not encounter the lusca, but throughout the 1970s, various articles and documentaries on the blue holes confirmed the local belief that giant cephalopod-like monsters, called lusca or "Him of the Hairy Hands," inhabited these sinkholes.[12] Captain Jacques Cousteau also took an interest in the subject at this time, initially reporting that several sport fishermen (probably including skipper Tommy Gifford[6]) between Florida and the Bahamas claimed that their lines had been torn by large, squid-like animals. According to Cousteau, an expedition sent to investigate this animal, utilising an automatic camera activated by traction on the fishing line, photographed "an undefined stretch of brown flesh".[13] Research by Gary Mangiacopra showed that this expedition took place in Bimini in 1964, under Burton Clark of the Miami Seaquarium, who told Mangiacopra that a fathometer trace indicated that "some large creature" was present on the seafloor. However, all records of the expedition had been lost or destroyed.[11] Cousteau also referred to the lusca of the blue holes,[14] and was aware of the inland lusca of the banana holes; he was told that a giant octopus or eel inhabited a salty pool on the island of Eleuthera, although his dives in this pool revealed nothing.[15]

Much information on the lusca was gathered by Forrest G. Wood, later known for his work on Octopus giganteus, during a 1956 survey of Grand Bahama, where a fishing guide named Duke told told him stories of the "giant scuttles" which had been seen three times in recent decades. They had arms as long as 75 ft (22 m), but were only dangerous if they could grab a boat while remaining attached to the seafloor, and they were only seen in shallow water when dying.[16] In 1997, the the Fort Lauderdale newspaper Sun Sentinel reported rumours of a monster, possibly a giant octopus, dwelling in a mangrove lake on Cat Island.[17]

In the 21st Century, a number of television documentaries have sponsored searches for the lusca. Destination Truth with Josh Gates traveled to Andros in 2009, following press reports of recent lusca sightings. While exploring a blue hole, Gates' crew filmed something large splashing at the surface of the water, but analysis of the footage could not determine what was responsible.[18] Another search, by Jeremy Wade, was made on behalf of River Monsters in 2016.[3] Although these expeditions have returned empty-handed, Richard Freeman regards the lusca as one of the ten cryptids most likely to be formally recognised in the 21st Century.[19]

Giant cephalopods have also been reported from the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are geologically and ecologically contiguous with the Bahamas. J. Manson Valentine, an entomologist interested in "esoteric archaeology," passed an account of a giant cephalopod to the Fortean researcher Charles Berlitz. The account came from a retired shark fisherman, Joe Talley. According to Talley, fishermen in the Caicos refused to fish in the blue holes at night out of fear of "giant squids or something," which would pull them down; shortly before Talley's arrival, a squid had allegedly clambered aboard a fishing boat, prompting the men to leap out and swim for shore.[20] Valentine confirmed to Raynal that Berlitz had reported the story accurately. According to Raynal, the cephalopods are more likely to have been octopuses than squids, as a squid would not be able to climb aboard a boat.[6] Fishing journalist Pierre Affre has confirmed that stories of giant nocturnal octopuses were current in the Caicos as recently as the 1980s. As on Andros, they were called "Him of the Hands" or "Him of the Hairy Hands".[6] In a cryptozoological book co-authored with Eric Joly, Les Monstres Sont Vivants (1995), Affre added that fishermen's lines have occasionally been grabbed by very powerful animals, believed to be giant octopuses.[6]

Similar rumours come from the northeastern coast of Cuba, according to journalist François Poli in his book Les Requins se Pêchent la Nuit (1957). Several fisherman he interviewed claimed that "gigantic octopuses," capable of dragging down boats and grabbing fishermen with their arms, existed in the Caribbean Sea, some with a "wingspan" of 15 m (49 ft). These cephalopods supposedly only came to the surface during moonlit nights, exposing their phosphorescent eyes, and were said to prey on sharks and fight sperm whales (Physeter tursio). As in the Caicos, fisherman reported that their lines were sometimes grabbed by some strong animal, which some, but not all, thought was a giant octopus.[6]

Description[]

Traditional folklore describes the lusca as half-shark, half-octopus,[2] a description borne out by certain sightings, including one eyewitness account describing the lusca as a tentacled animal with a pointed head like that of a mako shark.[3] However, "giant scuttles" are usually described generically, as very large octopuses, or in some cases merely cephalopods. One Bimini fisherman claimed that his line had been pulled by an animal with "brown and black and brownish-yellow spots,"[11] and a witness interviewed by Gates described the lusca's colour as "murkyish greyish-brownish."[18] Many others describe only vague views of tentacles.[18] Some descriptions give it phosphorescent eyes.[21] The actual size of these giant scuttles differs by account, and by the manner of measuring, but they are always agreed to be much larger than ordinary octopuses.[6]

The lusca is often described as a gigantic octopus, creatures reputed to sink ships in many exaggerated stories (Public Domain).

The lusca is usually reported to live in underwater cave and cavern systems, particularly the marine blue holes of the Caribbean Sea, and the brackish, inland banana holes of several Caribbean islands. Many of these structures are connected by flooded tunnels. Most accounts, from the Bahamas, the Caicos, and Cuba, agree that it is nocturnal, coming to the surface only at night, or when it is sick or dying.[6] One sighting described a giant octopus killed by tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier),[22] although the giant cephalopods of Cuba were said to prey on sharks.[21] It is reputedly dangerous to man, and is greatly feared for pulling down boats and grabbing fishermen with its arms.[6]

Sightings[]

1836[]

Possibly the first alleged encounter with a giant octopus in the Bahamas, reported to have occurred in 1836, but not published until 1863, was described by the journalist Bénédict-Henry Révoil (1816 – 1882) in his book Pêches dans l'Amérique du Nord (1863). Révoil claimed that an unnamed American captain in New York had told him that his ship was attacked by a kraken in the Lucayes (now the Bahamas), dragging off two sailors.[6]

An American captain, whom I knew well in New York, told me that in 1836, being at landfall in the Lucayes Islands, his ship had been attacked by a kraken, which, extending its gigantic arms, had reached up and dragged two of her crew into the sea. In vain had their comrades sought to rescue these two unfortunates from death; all their efforts were useless. The crew had, however, scored a partial victory, for with a hatchet the chief helmsman had severed one of the arms of the polypus. This monstrous appendage was three and a half meters long and the size of a man.

The captain claimed he had given the arm to Barnum's American Museum, where Révoil saw it preserved in a jar of alcohol, "shriveled and folded on itself." Many of the exhibits in the museum, which included the Fiji mermaid, were fakes, and Addison Verrill (1839 – 1926), who described and later repudiated Octopus giganteus, was inclined to doubt Révoil's story[23] Bernard Heuvelmans initially thought that the arm was more likely to have been cut from a giant squid (Architeuthis dux) than an octopus, although he later told Michel Raynal that he had changed his mind.[6]

1872[]

In 1872, J. S. George of Nassau in the Bahamas wrote to the American Naturalist describing a "colossal octopus" found dead on the beach. The journal paraphrased his account, referring to...[8]

... a huge octopus ten feet long, each arm measuring five feet; the weight was estimated at between two hundred and three hundred pounds. The monster was found dead upon the beach and bore marks of injury.

Raynal feels that although the size of the octopus was not substantial, its alleged weight, far greater than any known octopus and seemingly out of proportion with its size, was anomalous, possibly the result of severe miscalculation on George's part. However, as the specimen's arms were also much shorter in comparison to the body than in most octopuses, Raynal suggests that the "marks of injury" could have included severed arms, making the octopus' actual size much greater, and more in line with the weight calculated by George.[6]

~1925[]

During Forrest G. Wood's 1956 survey of Grand Bahama, the commissioner of the island, an Andros native, told him that he had seen a "giant scuttle" when he was around twelve years old – around 1925.[11] He, his father, and a companion were fishing in 600 ft (182 m) of water when something caught on the hook; through the clear water, it was seen that a large octopus was clinging to the line. It detached from the hook and grabbed the bottom of the boat, before letting go and returning to deeper water. The commissioner did not specify how large the octopus was, but stated that it was much larger than any known species.[16]

1938[]

Shortly before his retirement, an American sailor named Frank "Hurricane" Clark mentioned, in a newspaper interview reminiscing about his career at sea, an observation of a giant octopus of unknown size, 500 miles east of the Bahamas. Clark allegedly saw the octopus torn apart by tiger sharks.[22]

"Then, 500 miles east of the Bahamas, I lay becalmed for three days while a large squall slowly built up between me and land. I knew it was a hurricane." It was then that a giant octopus came near the tiny boat, and was attacked by tiger sharks. "I took cover in the cabin because that was one time I was afraid. You never saw such a thrashing and churning in all your life. The sharks finally took him under."

1941[]

After Wood published an article in Natural History describing the lusca and other giant octopuses, a returned U.S. Navy officer named John C. Martin wrote to him to report a sighting he had made off the coast of Florida, around Fort Lauderdale and St. Augustine, in March or April 1941. At that time, he had been coxswain on the USS Chicopee, and was on watch at the forecastle when he hoticed a large object ahead of the ship.[11]

Dead ahead of our course appeared something on the surface of the water that could not readily be described. The closer we approached it looked like a huge pile of brown kelp seaweed. As it moved into view there was no doubt as to its identity. The coils of its arms were looped up like huge coils of manila rope. However the coils were over 36 inches in circumference. This last deduction was compared to the girth of my waist at the time.

Martin believed the animal had been brought up from the depths by the activities of a pair of destroyers, which were disturbing local waters. Until reading Wood's article, he had not realised that what he saw could have been something unknown to science. In a later telephone interview, he told Wood that, although the entire gun crew had seen the animal in good light, the sighting was probably not recorded in the ship's log.[11] Raynal, who accepted Martin's sincerity, though not his accuracy, argues that this specimen was likely either dead or close to death.[6]

Before 1997[]

When journalist Randy Wayne White travelled to Cat Island in 1997, locals attempted to persuade him not to dive in a nearby mangrove lake, which they feared as the home of a man-eating monster. One respected local, elderly farmer Gaitor Ishmel, told White that he had once caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a large, carnivorous animal in the lake, which had snatched the carcass of a horse that had died on his father's farm.[17]

A big animal die on this island, we always burn them or put them in the water. Me, I was a young man at the time, and I remember how it was. It was on a Sunday, and we pushed this horse into that lake, and in not so very long we see a big ridge in the water coming toward us, like a big ripple, understand. And this thing come from under the water and take that horse away. It drag the whole horse beneath the water. It vanish down there in the depths! That when I know a dangerous creature live in that lake, because a horse, it not a small thing, man. My grandmother, she told me the creature was a mermaid. What I know is, this whole island used to lie beneath the sea, and when it pleased God to raise some of it up to be dry land, it could be that huge creatures were left in them holes beneath the water. Giant octopuses, maybe -- I don't know. But there something in that lake, man. That much I know, for I seen it my own self.

Before 2009[]

In his 2009 investigation, Josh Gates interviewed an Andros fisherman named Peter Douglass, who claimed he had seen a giant, tentacled animal while diving in a blue hole.[18]

I was down in the ocean blue hole, and as I checked it out it just came up off the bottom, and it was mainly a murkyish greyish-brownish colour, and then, behind it, I just saw a couple of tentacles rise above the bottom as it slowly turned around and went back in ... it's at least forty, fifty feet, it's huge.

Before 2009[]

One of the fishermen interviewed by Josh Gates in 2009, Rupert Tymer, reported having seen a lusca, which he described as looking "like part of an octopus."[18] Tymer was later interviewed by Jeremy Wade during his own 2016 expedition, during which he gave a more detailed account of the sighting. He described a traditionally-chimaeric lusca, a shark-headed animal with tentacles, which he allegedly saw while fishing in deep water off Andros.[3]

We were fishing for dorado and we happened to come across this strange animal. I thought it was a whale shark, but getting within fifty feet of it, found out it was a strange animal with tentacles and the head of a shark. The head was kind of similar to a mako shark, has a real pointed nose ... The tentacles was the last thing that we saw. The whole thing was about eight feet ... I'll always remember that until the day I die.

Theories[]

Mistaken identity[]

Giant squid (Architeuthis dux), the largest known cephalopods, occasionally seen surfacing could have inspired the lusca (Tsunemi Kubodera).

George Benjamin and Colin Willock believed that the lusca was a legend inspired by tidal surges and vortices observed at the mouths of blue holes.[12][24] These large sinkholes affect the local currents, and this, combined with tidal phenomena and possibly rainwater, can increase water pressure within the blue holes, creating geyser-like bubbles at their mouths. Raynal regards this idea as "ingenious," but feels that it cannot account for detailed sightings of the lusca, suggesting instead that sightings of giant cephalopods, combined with the vortices, may explain the lusca. However, he does argue that there may be a similarly non-zoological explanation for the idea that the lusca drags human victims into the blue holes. The cenotes of the Yucatán Peninsula, which are geologically identical to the blue holes, were used by local peoples for human sacrifices, resulting in a buildup of human skeletons within the cenotes. If the long-extinct Lucayan people of the Bahamas also used the banana holes or blue holes for human sacrifices, then divers and fishermen might occasionally discover human skeletons in the sinkholes. With no context for their presence, such discoveries could engender legends of monsters dwelling in the holes. According to Raynal, there is no need to invoke the lusca to explain any of the modern disappearances around the blue holes.[6]

The lusca has sometimes been described as a generic cephalopod, rather than an octopus specifically, and is not often described in detail. This has led to the theory that sightings actually refer to the known giant squid (Architeuthis dux), or some other very large squid species, rather than a putative gigantic octopus.[2][7] The first to espouse this theory was Bruce S. Wright, one of the first to write on the lusca. According to marine biologist Gilbert Voss, giant squids are common in the Caribbean, but their remains are not often found because deceased specimens are devoured and mutilated by sharks. However, Voss reported that the head and upper arm of a giant squid discovered off Bimini, which weighed some 500 lbs (227 kg), must have come from an exceptionally large specimen.[25] Several other accounts of giant, nondescript cephalopods in pelagic areas of the Caribbean Sea have been established as referring to giant squids.[6] Roy P. Mackal felt that the giant squid identity was a real possibility,[7] but Michel Raynal has put a number of criticisms forward. The allleged habitats of the lusca – the blue holes, banana holes, submerged caverns, and in some accounts the seafloor – would not be attractive to a giant squid, which is a free-swimming pelagic animal. At least one account alleges that a "giant scuttle" clambered onto a boat, something a squid cannot do.[6]

Giant octopus[]

The giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is the largest known octopus (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Michel Raynal theorises that the lusca is a giant cirrate octopus. The largest known cirrate is Cirroteuthis (Public Domain).

Described as a giant scuttle, a word usually applied to the octopus, many cryptozoologists have theorised that the lusca is in fact a gigantic octopus, an unknown cephalopod of similar size to the giant squid. No known octopus is officially recorded as reaching such great size; the largest is the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) of the Pacific Rim, which has an average armspan of 14 ft (4.3 m), although some larger records include specimens with armspans of 30 ft (9 m) and 9.8 m (32 ft). The lusca would perhaps be up to twice this size. However, some aspects of its description are indeed more reminiscent of an octopus than a squid. The reported habitats of the lusca fit the usual octopus biotope – most octopuses are benthic animals which "walk" on the seafloor, and would thus be at home in sinkholes and flooded caverns.[6] Jeremy Wade felt that the Pacific octopus' manner of swimming, rather than "walking" on the seabed in the familiar manner, could theoretically fool an observer into believing he was seeing a half-shark, half-octopus. This, combined with the knowledge that a boneless octopus could potentially navigate the tunnels between the blue holes and the banana holes, led Wade to the conclusion that the lusca could indeed be a giant octopus.[3]

There are two main groups of octopuses: the incirrate octopuses, containing most of the well-known varieties, and the more aberrant cirrate octopuses, which are noted for the large fins present on the head. Michel Raynal theorises that the lusca represents a giant cirrate octopus.[1] The largest of these, Cirroteuthus, is not known to grow as large as the Pacific octopus, with a maximum recorded length of 4.9 ft (1.5 m), although in 1984 the French submersible Cyana filmed an undescribed Pacific cirrate octopus which measured 8.2 ft (2.5 m).[1] This theory was based partially upon the Octopus giganteus globster, which possessed side-fins, but some aspects of the lusca are also of relevance: for example, Raynal argues that the hair-like cirri fringing the suckers of such an octopus could also account for the name "Him of the Hairy Hands." According to him, the presence of fins might explain why the lusca is sometimes compared to a squid rather than an octopus, as squids do possess small side-fins. For sustenance, Raynal believes that the lusca probably preys mainly on the spiny lobster (Panulirus argus), which gathers in great numbers in the Caribbean Sea, and which, like the lusca, is both nocturnal and an inhabitant of the blue holes.[6]

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Heuvelmans, Bernard "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals With Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned", Cryptozoology, No. 5 (1986)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 "Terror in Paradise". River Monsters: Series 8, Episode 4 (5 May 2016)
  4. Coleman, Loren & Clark, Jerome (1999) Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0684856025
  5. Coleman, Loren & Huyghe, Patrick (2003) The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, TarcherPerigree, ISBN 978-1585422524
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 Raynal, Michel "The Case for the Giant Octopus," Fortean Studies, Vol. 1 (1994)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Mackal, Roy P. (1980) Searching for Hidden Animals: An Inquiry Into Zoological Mysteries, Cadogan Books, ISBN 978-0946313051
  8. 8.0 8.1 George, J. S. "A Colossal Octopus," American Naturalist, Vol. 6 (1872)
  9. "Discover the New Grand Bahama," Better Homes and Gardens, Vol. 35, No. 3 (March 1957)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Wright, Bruce S. "The Lusca of Andros," Atlantic Advocate, No. 11 (June 1967)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Mangiacopra, Gary & Raynal, Michel & Smith, Dwight & Avery, David F. "Lusca and Scuttles of the Caribbean," Of Sea and Shore, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 1995)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Benjamin, George J. "Diving Into the Blue Holes of the Bahamas," National Geographic, Vol. 138, No. 3 (September 1970)
  13. Cousteau, Jacques (1973) Pieuvres: La Fin d'un Malentendu
  14. Cousteau, Jacques (1973) Trois Aventures de la Calypso
  15. Cirillo, Christoper L. (2010) Spanish Wells Bahamas: The Island, the People, the Allure
  16. 16.0 16.1 Wood, Forrest G. & Gennaro, Joseph G. "An Octopus Trilogy," Natural History, No. 80 (March 1971)
  17. 17.0 17.1 White, Randy Wayne "Creature From the Bad Blue Hole," Sun Sentinel (9 November 1997)
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 "Island of the Dolls/Lusca". Destination Truth: Series 3, Episode 2 (16 September 2009)
  19. Freeman, Richard "Monsters of the Next Millennium," Animals & Men, No. 20
  20. Berlitz, Charles (1977) Without a Trace
  21. 21.0 21.1 Poli, François (1957) Les Requins se Pêchent la Nuit
  22. 22.0 22.1 Clark, Frank E. "Hurricane Clark Longing for End to Stormy Career," Star-News (6 October 1949)
  23. Verrill, Addison "Report on the Cephalopods of the Northeastern Coast of America," Annual Report of the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries (1879)
  24. Willock, Colin "In Search of the Hairy-Handed Monster," TV Times (September 1972)
  25. Voss, Gilbert L. "Hunting for Sea Monsters," Sea Frontiers, Vol. 5, No. 3 (August 1959)
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