Planning the big event


The colossal squid was big news — this monster from the deep had caught the public's imagination!

High public interest in the squid

Publicity surrounding the capture of the world's biggest, intact colossal squid in the Ross Sea, and its presentation to Te Papa, generated considerable local and international interest.

The public really wanted to know what was happening with the squid. Te Papa media spokespeople regularly fielded calls and enquiries about the future of the squid. The high interest and lack of facilities for public viewing at the Te Papa laboratories demanded the creation of an 'event' - one in which the public could view and engage in the thaw and preservation of the colossal squid.

Options are considered

Various options were considered. Strict regulations under hazardous chemical legislation prevented the squid examination and then preservation in a formalin solution from being carried out in a publicly accessible area. The option of using closed-circuit television links to the public galleries at Cable Street (0.9 km away) was considered. Finally it was decided to broadcast the examination process via the internet using webcams - something Te Papa had not tried before.

There was also the problem of maintaining public interest over the three to four days that half a tonne of melting ice and squid was expected to take to thaw! Fortunately several other squid specimens were available. These included a 250 kg giant squid, and a second, damaged, colossal squid weighing approximately 160 kilogrammes, which had been caught in early 2008.

The team decided to thaw these specimens and carry out comparative anatomical dissections during the period in which the large colossal specimen was thawing.

Inviting the scientists

Invitations were sent to Dr Steve O'Shea and Dr Tsunemi Kubodera to participate in the dissections. Two Swedish scientists interested in animal vision, Professor Eric Warrant and Professor Dan-Eric Nilsson, also agreed to attend so they could study the eye of the colossal squid.

Testing the ice

Prior to the examination of the colossal squid, a number of
experiments were carried out with a container identical to the one which held the frozen squid.

The container was filled with water and frozen to -20°C. It was then thawed under a variety of conditions to determine more accurately how long a 495 kilogramme block of ice - christened the 'squidcicle' - would take to thaw.

This large iceblock also allowed the team to test the procedures to be used for lifting the specimen into the thawing tank. As the whole process was going to be carried out live in front of news cameras, and broadcast over the web, it was important to get it right!

Image 01
The scientists meet at Te Papa to discuss how to thaw and examine the colossal squid.

Anticlockwise from right: Dr Carol Diebel, Dr Steve O'Shea, Chris Paulin, Mark Fenwick, Bruce Marshall, and Dr Tsunemi Kubodera.
Image 02
Extra lighting is installed in the dissection room, ready for the webcam filming of the examination.
Image 03
Outside the laboratory at Te Papa where the specimen will be thawed and examined.
Image 04
Preparing for the thaw involved experimenting with a large block of ice to see how long it took to melt.