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Giant Squid Being Thawed Out By New Zealand Scientists

RAY LILLEY   04/29/08 05:15 PM ET   AP

Giantsquid

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Marine scientists in New Zealand on Tuesday were thawing the corpse of the largest squid ever caught to try to unlock the secrets of one of the ocean's most mysterious beasts.

No one has ever seen a living, grown colossal squid in its natural deep ocean habitat, and scientists hope their examination of the 1,089-pound, 26-foot long colossal squid, set to begin Wednesday, will help determine how the creatures live. The thawing and examination are being broadcast live on the Internet.

The squid, which was caught accidentally by fishermen last year, was removed from its freezer Monday and put into a tank filled with saline solution. Ice was added to the tank Tuesday to slow the thawing process so the outer flesh wouldn't rot, said Carol Diebel, director of natural environment at New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa.

After it is thawed, scientists will examine the squid's anatomical features, remove the stomach, beak and other mouth parts, take tissue samples for DNA analysis and determine its sex, Diebel said.

"If we get ourselves a male it will be the first reported (scientific) description of the male of the species," Steve O'Shea, a squid expert at Auckland's University of Technology, told National Radio. He is one of the scientists conducting the examination.

The squid is believed to be the largest specimen of the rare deep-water species Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, or colossal squid, ever caught, O'Shea has said.

Colossal squid, which have long been one of the most mysterious denizens of the deep ocean, can grow up to 46 feet long, descend to 6,500 feet into the ocean and are considered aggressive hunters.

At the time it was caught, O'Shea said it would make calamari rings the size of tractor tires if cut up _ but they would taste like ammonia, a compound found in the animals' flesh.

Fishermen off the coast of Antarctica accidentally netted the squid in February 2007 while catching Patagonian toothfish, which are sold under the name Chilean sea bass.

The squid was eating a hooked toothfish when it was hauled from the deep. Recognizing it as a rare find, the fishermen froze the squid on their vessel to preserve it. The national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, later took possession of it.

The previous largest colossal squid ever found was a 660 pound female squid discovered in 2003, the first ever landed.

Researchers plan to eventually put the squid on display in a 1,800 gallon tank of formaldehyde at the museum in the capital, Wellington.

Colossal squid are found in Antarctic waters and are not related to giant squid found round the coast of New Zealand. Giant squid grow up to 39 feet long, and are not as heavy as colossal squid.

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On the Net:

http://www.r2.co.nz/20080427/rotate-1.asx

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Filed by Katharine Zaleski  |