Antarctic Colossal Squid Fascinates in Museum and Online

October 3, 2014

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Deep in Antarctica's Southern Ocean in December 2013, Captain John Bennett and his crew aboard the San Aspiring toothfish boat hauled from the Ross Sea a creature seen more often in fiction than in real life. The 770-lb colossal squid was the second such catch for Bennett, who saw it surface on their line and decided to donate it to science.

“It was partly alive, it was still hanging onto the fish,” Captain Bennett told media. “Just a big bulk in the water. They’re huge, and the mantle’s all filled with water. It’s quite an awesome sight.”

The massive squid was preserved in ice for eight months in Wellington, New Zealand, before researchers at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa thawed it for examination September 16th. They were joined by squid scientists from Auckland University of Technology and the University of Otago.

Given that this was only the second colossal squid recovered and its fantastic preservation, scientists shared the experience with the world via live-streamed video.

The livestream examination drew an audience of about 142,000 viewers from 180 countries.

Measuring about 13 feet from tip to tentacle, the giant squid was carrying eggs when she was discovered. Each of its arms are over a metre in length and its two tentacles could have been twice as long, were they not damaged.

Lead researcher Kat Bolstad was amazed the squid was in such great condition and told media, “This is essentially an intact specimen, which is almost an unparalleled opportunity for us to examine. This is a spectacular opportunity.”

This one had two perfect eyes,” she said. “They have very large and very delicate eyes because they live in the deep sea. It’s very rare to see an eye in good condition at all.”

A forklift was needed to hoist the squid into the examination tank. After taking samples and examining the creature, researchers planned to preserve it for further research and display.

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Te Papa is home to the only colossal squid on display on the planet. Image credit: Te Papa

Graduate researcher Jesse Kelly shared his experience at the examination tank in a Te Papa blog post on October 1st:

"My finger was between the two beaks, which felt unyieldingly hard, and as Kat cut around the bulb of muscle underneath slight tugs and pulls were transferred through to the beaks. The result was that it felt like the squid might yet still be alive and ready to eat my finger. I couldn’t help picture how it would feel to be chopped up by a colossal squid in the frigid Antarctic waters, and was quite happy when the beaks finally came free. My research deals with other large squid, with large beaks and hundreds of sharp hooks, but I’ve never had an experience quite as chilling as that."

Kelly also thanked the crew of the San Aspiring for recognizing the importance of their find in the Antarctic waters last summer.

Te Papa is home to the only colossal squid specimen on display in the world and offers a virtual tour online for enthusiasts the world over to take part in educational games and activities. Scientists are assessing the condition of this latest squid to decide whether it should be preserved for public display.

Interested in learning while you travel? With Quark Expeditions you can travel with scientists, photographers, and descendants of Polar explorers to add an extra layer of interest and insight to your Polar expedition.

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