The first thing the team had to do before they could examine the colossal squid was thaw it out. The squid had been frozen on board the San Aspiring, folded up in its landing net inside a plastic container. It had then been stored in a freezer at Te Papa for over a year. The huge 'squidcicle', as it was nicknamed, was a problem. It was very heavy to move, and the team had to work out a way to thaw it without damaging the valuable specimen.
A month before the team of scientists were due to meet in Wellington,
a special thawing tank was built at Te Papa. The six metre-long temporary tank was built using plywood panels lined with several layers of polythene. It was filled with 6,000 litres of water, and 320 kilogrammes of salt was added to bring the salinity to approximately that of seawater (about 3.5 per cent, or 35 parts per thousand). The salt water would speed up the thawing process, and act as a sterilising agent while the thaw was in progress.
The temperature of the water in the tank had to be kept down so the squid wouldn't thaw too quickly. About 10 degrees Celsius was ideal. A tonne of crushed ice sourced from a local fishing company was shovelled into the tank to bring the water temperature down.
Once the tank was ready, the 495-kilogramme squid was finally removed from the freezer. The steel frame and plastic container surrounding the specimen was cut away. The colossal squid was carefully hoisted up and then lowered into the tank (video 1). The thaw could begin.
The scientists put on waders and gumboots so they could climb into the tank to examine the specimen. Although the outer edges of the 'squidcicle' thawed relatively quickly, the central core remained frozen. The team
used running water to speed up the thawing process. As the specimen started to thaw, the landing net and the blue plastic lining it had been frozen in were carefully cut away. When the arms and tentacles were unfurled, bubblewrap and floating bags were used to hold them up in the tank to stop them getting damaged.
Eventually, after 60 hours, the specimen had thawed out. It was now lying with most of its body upside down in the tank, with the ventral surface, or underside, showing. The team quickly realised that the squid's tissue was gelatinous and delicate. To avoid damaging it, they decided not to try to turn it over.
At last, with the thawed specimen laid out in the tank, the scientists could finally start to examine the colossal squid in detail. While they waited for the colossal squid to thaw the team examined two other squid specimens – a smaller colossal squid and a giant squid (videos 2–4).
Watch the last hours of the thaw (raw footage)