April 28, 2008

Scientists Study Rare Colossal Squid Specimen

Scientists in New Zealand have begun thawing a colossal squid specimen on Monday in hopes to learn more about the rare and mysterious ocean creatures.

The squid is more than 34 feet long and weighs half a ton and is currently thawing in a bath of saltwater. Scientists in Wellington then plan to dissect it in order to learn about the species, which live largely in the cold Antarctic waters and can grow up to 50 feet long.

"They're incredibly rare"”this is probably one of maybe six specimens ever brought up," said Carol Diebel, director of natural environment at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa centre.

"It's certainly the one that we're being really careful about, completely intact and in really fantastic condition," she added.

The specimen, known scientifically as Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, was caught in February 2007 in the Ross Sea.

Sightings of the large animal are rare occurrences. It was identified first in 1925 from two tentacles found in a sperm whale's stomach.

Sperm whales are known to fight with Mesonychoteuthis and other giant cephalopods such as the giant squid of the Architeuthis genus.

Few Mesonychoteuthis have been sighted since 1925. All sightings have occurred in the seas bordering the Antarctic.

Not much is known about how and where they live, but it is clear that they are fearsome opponents, with big beaks and unique swiveling hooks on the club-like ends of their tentacles.

Most likely, scientists will first attempt to ascertain the specimen's gender"”though this one is believed to be male. Females are thought to grow even larger than the males.

Therefore, if this specimen turns out to be male, there are certainly even bigger and larger squid in the depths of the Atlantic.

Defrosting and dissection of one smaller, damaged colossal squid and two giant squid specimens will be shown in a live webcast from the Te Papa center.

Scientists are expected to give public lectures about their initial results later in the week.

Once the squid are thawed and examined, they will be embalmed and preserved for later research.


Image Caption: Inspecting the beak. The beak is 200 mm long and capable of slicing fish into pieces small enough to pass down the oesophagus through the brain. Courtesy Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa


On the Net:

Colossal squid blog

Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa

Giant and Colossal Squid Fact Sheet, Tonmo.com