A live webcast of the dissection of the largest colossal squid ever caught is scheduled for April 30th at the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand. Weighing nearly 1000 pounds and measuring the length of a school bus, the behemoth was caught in Antarctic waters in February of 2007 by a fishing vessel trolling for toothfish with long lines – single lines with many baited hooks. When the crew raised the lines they discovered the colossal squid, which was hooked when it tried to eat a toothfish caught on the line. Because the squid was barely alive and unlikely to survive if released, the fishing vessel hauled the one-of-a-kind specimen on board, froze it, and delivered it to the museum for study.
Since the colossal squid was given to Te Papa, staff at the museum have been investigating the best method of thawing it, examining it, and eventually displaying it. Because squid are delicate animals and very easily damaged, the temperature will be gradually raised over several days. It will be thawed in a saline solution to prevent decay of the outer tissue while the inner sections are still frozen. Scientists will examine it, measure it, examine the stomach contents to gather information on its diet, and determine its sex.
There is a great deal of excitement surrounding the catch, preservation, and examination of this squid because scientists know so little about the species; since they live at extreme depths in freezing water (usually 3000 feet or more) they are very rarely captured. The first report of a colossal squid was in 1925, when the head and arms were discovered in a sperm whale stomach. Since then, only eight adult colossal squid have been reported, and six of those were remains recovered from the stomachs of whales. From the squid beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales in the Southern Ocean, scientists have estimated that colossal squid might form as much as 77% of a sperm whale’s diet, thus they speculate that the creature is much more common than the sparse number of captured specimens would suggest.
While the general public won’t be admitted into the confined space of the laboratory, they will be able to watch the process on webcams that went live today. Four different cameras show the laboratory wide view, dissection table, and thawing bath. Please note, however, that the mound of white fish on the thawing table at present is NOT the colossal squid. Scientists are still tinkering with the temperature of the thawing bath before bringing it out; the problem seems to be that no one is quite sure how much the creature weighs, and the weight dictates the temperature of the thawing solution. This news story has generated enormous, unexpected interest around the world, which is putting a strain on both the museum and the TV station’s servers, so the video may take a few seconds to load. If it doesn’t pop right up, try refreshing or reloading your browser.
If you’re interested in viewing the dissection online, keep the time difference in mind. The time in Wellington, New Zealand is 16-hours later than the U.S. Eastern Standard time. Assuming the dissection will begin at 9 AM, Wednesday, April 30th, New Zealand time, you’ll want to stat watching the webcam at 5PM EST on Tuesday, April 29th (4PM Central, 3PM Pacific)