Great White Shark vs Giant Squid: Who’s Winning?

by Jon D. B.

New research points to the giant squid being far more massive than previously thought. Could this sea monster take down a great white shark?

It’s Shark Week, Outsiders, and there’s no symbol of Discovery’s finest festival like the great white. These magnificent, mammoth, and misunderstood sharks are endlessly fascinating for their ferocity alone. Yet the more we learn about these behemoths, the clearer it becomes that they’re not the indominable force we once thought.

In kind, my first instinct was to go straight for another apex predator, pitting a great white shark against our ocean’s killer whale, the orca. But recent studies have shown that orcas have a shark-hunting culture (you read that right), and these giant marine mammals will actively hunt and kill great whites for their fatty livers. Cue the Silence of the Lambs theme.

Now, I’m no marine biologist (not by a long shot). My wildlife technician and behavioral husbandry work is firmly rooted on the ground. But from what my colleagues have shared in the past (and 30+ years of Shark Week fun), I do know that sharks are built on instinct. Orcas, however, are built on intelligence. Magnificent intelligence akin to our own, in fact. If we’re looking for a fair fight, what’s another instinctual predator of the deep?

Enter the giant squid; an enormous cephalopod that marine biologists now believe to be even more enormous than previously thought.

The Combatants: Great White Shark vs Giant Squid

Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)Giant Squid (Architeuthis)
Max Length: 20 feetMax Length: Possibly 60+ feet
Max Weight: 5,000 poundsMax Weight:
Attributes: Immense jaw strength, razor-sharp teeth, thick hide, indominable musculatureAttributes: Razor-sharp beak, hundreds of sharp-toothed suckers on immense tentacles, massive size
Photo credit: Getty Images Archives, Outsider

In 2016, a Journal of Zoology paper by statistical ecologist Charles Paxton set the stage for giant squids of unfathomable size. We know they can reach lengths of up to 40-feet regardless, but a 60-to-90-foot squid? Now that’s a true Kraken.

Pitting a great white shark and their bite PSI of 4,000-freaking-pounds against a 30-foot giant squid seems like a no-brainer. But that’s pitting a 20-foot shark against a squid with a 9-foot body and 20-foot tentacles. A squid with a comparable body size to a great white and 40-60-foot tentacles, however, is an entirely different story.

Small-Scale Example: Dogfish Shark vs Suffocating Tentacles

Giant squid are so elusive that we’re not likely to ever capture this titanic struggle on film. But existing evidence shows large sharks, like this whitetip shark, exhibiting massive tentacle scars from something far larger: a truly giant squid.

So what would happen if a gigantic giant squid were to ensnare a great white shark? Chances are it would go down like this small-scale example. Within, NatGeo Wild showcases a different cephalopod, an octopus, ensnaring a dogfish shark in its large tentacles. The shark becomes immobilized and eventually suffocates.

Sharks, like all fish, have to keep moving through the water in order to breathe (as oxygen-rich water filters through their gills). Stop that swimming and you stop the breathing, killing the shark. Which is exactly how cephalopods trap and consume sharks as prey.

Our final verdict? If giant squid can reach these truly mammoth sizes, then a great white won’t stand a chance. Think of it like using your hand to wrap around and squeeze the life out of a banana-sized fish. Gruesome, yes, but nature often is. And an immense squid will have an equally-immense parrotlike beak; one that’s going to pick apart the great white shark as it suffocates and bleeds out from the hundreds of razor-toothed suckers on the eight arms and two tentacles of the giant (see: gigantic) squid.

What other matchups would you like to see courtesy of our wildlife expert? Hit up Outsider on Facebook to let us know, and be sure to check out our other VS entries: