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BENCHLEY'S BEAST: SQUID ON A RAMPAGE.

Byline: Kate O'Hare Tribune Media Services

``Squid! Squid!'' doesn't have quite the same punch as ``Shark! Shark!''

But maybe it should.

After frightening an entire generation out of the ocean with ``Jaws,'' author and oceanographer Peter Benchley has created a new underwater terror - architeuthis dux or the great squid - the world's largest invertebrate.

``Squids have all the nightmares you can imagine,'' said Benchley, whose ``Jaws'' became the hallmark for underwater terror. ``(They have) the largest eyes in the animal kingdom; a beak like a parrot - they found one 9 inches wide that could tear a human being apart.'' And don't forget the squid's toothed suckers and barbed feeding tentacles.

Benchley's tale of ``The Beast,'' transformed into a two-part miniseries by NBC, follows the battle between a Washington State fisherman and a creature straight out of seagoing myth and legend.

William Petersen (``Fear'') stars as Whip Dalton, the fisherman who leads an expedition to destroy an angry giant squid. Accompanying him are a Coast Guard lieutenant (Karen Sillas), a researcher (Ronald Guttman) and the local landlord/harbormaster (Charles Martin Smith).

``This is what Peter Benchley likes to do,'' said Petersen. ``He comes out about every 10 years and scares you out of the water.

``You've got a renegade creature that's basically been forced out of its feeding ground by lack of food, because of what we've done to the oceans. It's found a place to feed, and that's on us.

``So I'm trying to tell everybody, `Just avoid it. Just don't deal with it. It'll go away once it's not got any food.' But of course they go out because they're trying to make a big name for themselves,'' Petersen said.

Benchley said he became interested in the giant squid after going on a fishing expedition for the creatures in 1979.

``I thought it would be an interesting thing to try because they had such a reputation. We put stainless-steel cables down to 3,000 feet, and nothing happened all night long. It was very rough, and we disappointedly started back in the morning. We pulled the cables up and found they had been bitten off at 2,000 feet.

``So I began to do a lot of research and talked to all the squid experts in the world. I eventually thought, `This could be used as a kind of environmental metaphor. Here's the last dragon we have left.''

No one has ever observed the giant squid in its natural habitat, but some have been captured. In January, scientists off the coast of New Zealand caught a 26-foot giant squid (that's a foot longer than the shark in ``Jaws''), that had 13-foot tentacles, a 7-foot body and a head nearly 6 feet long. A 13-foot female also has been netted, along with a 20-foot male (typically, the smaller gender). Scientists estimate that the animal can reach 60 to 70 feet in length.

Its only natural enemy is the sperm whale.

Although little is known about deep-sea ecology, some researchers speculate that the increase in deep fishing is disturbing the giant squid, forcing it into shallower waters. While humans and squid meet very seldom, the results can be devastating when they do.

Benchley recalls tales, dating to the 19th century, of squid snatching people from boats with their tentacles. Recently, friends of Bentley's were photographing Humboldt squid, a smaller variety than the great squid, off the Baja coast.

``The fishermen said, `Don't do this. We think these are much more dangerous than sharks.' But the film crew went in the water.'' According to Benchley, Humboldts weigh about 150 pounds and are about 12 feet long. ``The leader of the expedition went to push one out of the way, and it turned on him and put a dozen holes into his hand.''

Most of the crew got out of the water, leaving one cameraman behind. ``Three of the squids grabbed him and started taking him down in 5,000 feet of water. By the purest of good luck, the things the squid had grabbed were breakaways, so he came up. One was a gold chain around his neck, and the squid opened him up from ear to ear, because they have hooks inside their suckers, and tore him up pretty badly.

``The expedition leader said this guy got on the boat all bloody and messed up, and he said, `What the hell happened to you?' And the guy looked at him and simply said, `It's been a long day. I'm going to bed.'''

PETER BENCHLEY'S THE BEAST When: 9 p.m. April 28 and 29

Network: NBC

Starring: William Petersen, Karen Sillas, Ronald Guttman, Charles Martin Smith

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) Peter Benchley's

`THE BEAST'

(2 ) William Petersen
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:TV BOOK
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 28, 1996
Words:787
Previous Article:PUBLIC FORUM : TUNNELING FOR SUBWAY IS `FAR TOO DANGEROUS'.
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