29 April 2008

Colossal squid specimen is relative minnow

Agence France-Presse
The biggest squid ever caught – which is 10 metres long and boasts a fearsome beak and razor-sharp hooks – may be small compared to others still lurking in the depths, experts in New Zealand said today.
Colossal squid specimen is relative minnow

Seafood bonanza: Experts say that if the new specimen (pictured here when it was caught in the Ross Sea last year) was cut into squid rings, they would be size of tractor tyres, and would taste of ammonia. Credit: New Zealand Government

WELLINGTON: The biggest squid ever caught – which is 10 metres long and boasts a fearsome beak and razor-sharp hooks – may be small compared to others still lurking in the depths, experts in New Zealand said today.

The colossal squid has begun a two-day thaw at The Museum of New Zealand in Wellington before it is examined in more detail on Wednesday by an international team of scientists.

It weighs 495 kg, has eyes the size of dinner plates and is estimated at up to 10 metres long.

Eyes the size of dinner plates

But that may be relatively small, scientists said after initial examination, suggesting other colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) under the chilly Antarctic waters might grow much larger.

On a museum blog following the progress of the thaw, Chris Paulin – who is projects manager at the museum, which is also known as Te Papa Tongarewa – said Tuesday that the beak of the colossal squid has been exposed as the flesh defrosts.

The size of the lower beak, used to chop prey into bite sized pieces, is around 43 to 45 mm long. However, colossal squid lower beaks previously found in the stomachs of sperm whales have been as long as 49 mm.

Extrapolating the relationship between the length of the beak and body size from another smaller specimen being examined suggests the species could grow much bigger, Paulin said.

“Can we assume that this species reaches three quarters of a tonne in weight?” he asked.

“Gelatinous blob with seriously evil arms”

One of the scientists leading the examination, Auckland University of Technology squid expert Steve O’Shea, said it was difficult to say how much bigger the monster squid could grow.

“What we know from that one measurement is that the beak of this animal from the stomachs of sperm whales are considerably larger,” O’Shea told Radio New Zealand. “We make the leap to say that the colossal squid grows considerably larger than the 495 kg one we are currently defrosting.”

O’Shea has previously described the colossal squid, which has razor-sharp swivelling hooks at the end of its tentacles, as “a nasty aggressive sort of squid… a gelatinous blob with seriously evil arms on it.”

If the new specimen was cut into squid rings, they would be size of tractor tyres, and would taste of ammonia.

The specimen was caught as it ate an Antarctic toothfish hooked on a fishing boat’s long line in Antarctic waters in February last year (See, Colossal squid dwarfs giants, Cosmos Online). After being snap frozen, it was given to the museum, which has since been deliberating over the best way to defrost, examine and display it.

Tanked up

Suggestions such as using a giant microwave to defrost it were discarded, and on Monday the squid was placed in a tank filled with cold salty water to ensure it defrosts slowly without decomposing. The squid is so large that there was a risk the outside flesh would start to rot before the inside had thawed.

Defrosting is due to finish Wednesday when scientists will learn as much as they can before the squid is preserved in formalin to go on show in a massive tank at the museum later this year.

NEWSLETTER

Sign up to our free newsletter and have "This Week in Cosmos" delivered to your inbox every Monday.

>> More information
Latest
issue
CONNECT
Like us on Facebook
Follow @CosmosMagazine
Add Cosmos to your Google+ circles

Get a weekly dose of Cosmos delivered straight to your inbox!

  • The latest in science each week
  • All the updates on our new website launch
  • Exclusive offers and competitions

Enter your name and email address below: