Colossal Squid Thawing; Hints at Even Bigger Beasts

Dave Hansford in Wellington, New Zealand
for National Geographic News
April 29, 2008

The big thaw has begun.

In preparation for dissection, scientists in New Zealand have begun the delicate two-day task of defrosting the biggest squid ever caught—a rare colossal squid, or Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni. (Watch video.)

Already the squid is yielding clues to the mysterious species' habits and giant size. Colossal squid may grow even bigger than this record-breaking specimen, for example, and may be essentially invisible at depth, the researchers say.

The 1,091-pound (495-kilogram) squid has been frozen in a New Zealand lab since a fishing crew accidentally caught it near Antarctica in February 2007 (see photo of the squid's capture).

The researchers initially considered thawing the squid in a giant microwave oven.

They decided against it for fear of harming the creature's tissues, so instead the animal will soften up in a salty bath.

The colossal squid—one of six ever found—required two hoists to lower it into a saline tank at Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand's national museum in Wellington.

Hitting a Snag

The team quickly realized that the 19- to 26-foot long (6- to 8-meter) squid left so little room for ice in the inspection tank that it would thaw too quickly, allowing the outer tissue to rot before the internal organs thawed.

In a further complication, the corpse is still entangled in the fishing net that captured it.

The hitch came despite a series of practice runs on a smaller colossal squid and two giant squid, which are also currently being examined.

The scientists added another ton of ice to the bath, along with 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of salt.

Continued on Next Page >>




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