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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 13:26 GMT
Giant squid grabs London audience
By Rebecca Morelle
BBC News science reporter

Giant squid at Natural History Museum (NHM)

One of the biggest and most complete giant squids ever found is on display at London's Natural History Museum.

Measuring a monstrous 8.62m (28ft), the animal was caught off the coast of the Falkland Islands by a trawler.

Researchers at the museum undertook a painstaking process to preserve the giant creature, which is now on show in a 9m- (30ft-) long glass tank.

Giant squid, once thought to be sea serpents, are very rarely seen and live at depths of 200-1,000m (650-3,300ft).

They can weigh up to a 1,000kg; the largest ever spotted measured a vast 18.5m and was found in 1880 off Island Bay in New Zealand.

"Most giant squid tend to be washed up dead on beaches, or retrieved from the stomach of sperm whales, so they tend to be in quite poor condition," explained Jon Ablett, the mollusc curator at the Natural History Museum who led preservation efforts.

As a result, finding such a large, complete specimen was something of a rarity, he said.

Archie the squid

The team nicknamed the creature Archie, after its Latin name Architeuthis dux, but it may have to revise this after finding out that the squid is probably female.

Scientists admit they know little about the largest of the squid
It took several months to prepare the squid for display.

"The first stage was to defrost it; that took about four days. The problem was the mantle - the body - is very thick and the tentacles very narrow, so we had to try to thaw the thick mantle without the tentacles rotting," Mr Ablett told the BBC News website.

The scientists did this by bathing the mantle in water, whilst covering the tentacles in ice packs, after which they injected the squid with a formol-saline solution to prevent it from rotting.

See how the giant squid will look in its display case

The team then needed to find someone to build a glass tank which could not only hold the huge creature, but could leave the squid accessible for future scientific research, and they decided to draw upon the knowledge of an artist famed for displaying preserved dead animals.

"We contacted Damien Hirst's group after seeing their animals preserved in formalin. They put us in touch with a company who could make these tanks," explained Mr Ablett.

The squid now resides in a glass tank, filled to the brim with preservative solution, and is one of 22 million specimens that can be seen as part of the behind-the-scenes Darwin Centre tour of the Natural History Museum.

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