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Colossal squid comes out of ice

28 April 08 08:34 GMT
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Technicians in New Zealand have begun to thaw a rare colossal squid specimen.

The operation to defrost the 10-metre (34 feet) long, half-tonne squid began on Monday afternoon in Wellington following a postponement of 24 hours.

The animal is now sitting in a bath of salt water. Once it is thawed, scientists will begin to dissect it.

Very little is known about colossal squid, which appear to live largely in the cold Antarctic waters and can grow up to 15 metres (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."

The Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni specimen was caught in February 2007 in the Ross Sea.

Big unknown

The colossal squid is remarkable for its size, but also for how rarely it has been sighted.

It was identified first in 1925 from two tentacles found in a sperm whale's stomach.

These deep-diving toothed whales regularly do battle with Mesonychoteuthis and other giant cephalopods such as the giant squid of the Architeuthis genus.

Since 1925, only a few Mesonychoteuthis have been sighted, all in the seas around Antarctica.

Very little is known about how and where they live. The one certainty is that they are fearsome opponents, with big beaks and unique swivelling hooks on the club-like ends of their tentacles.

One of the first tasks is likely to be ascertaining the squid's gender.

This one is believed to be male; and females are thought to grow larger than males.

So if this one is a he, presumably there are even bigger and heavier shes somewhere in the cold Antarctic waters.

The Te Papa scientists are also defrosting a smaller, damaged colossal squid specimen, and two giant squid. The defrosting and dissection are being shown in a live webcast.

Later in the week, scientists are expected to give public lectures about their initial results.

Once thawed and examined, the squid will be embalmed and preserved.

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