The thaw

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)

Image 01
When the squid was frozen on board the San Aspiring, it was still in the landing net. The team carefully cuts the net away as the squid thaws in the tank.
Image 02
As the squid continues to thaw, the arms and tentacles are supported by plastic bags to prevent them from damage. Cold water is run inside the mantle to speed up the thaw.
Image 03
Scientists Dr Steve O'Shea and Mark Fenwick feel inside the squid's mantle to see if it is still frozen. Cold water is run inside the mantle to speed up the thaw.
Image 04
As the squid slowly thaws, the arms and tentacles untangle to reveal the eye. The arms and tentacles are supported by floating plastic bags to protect them from damage.
Image 05
The team pours cold water over the frozen squid to aid the thawing process.
Image 06
Media film the colossal squid as it thaws. Dr Olaf Blaauw uses an underwater camera on a pole to view progress.
Loading the frozen colossal squid into the tank
The team carefully lift the frozen colossal squid into the tank. They leave it to thaw overnight and put the cover on the tank. In the foreground a giant squid specimen is ready to be examined.
April 2008
Courtesy of Malcom Hall, MHTV Limited
Timelapse video
High speed clip of the team viewing the colossal squid in the tank. While they wait for it to thaw the team examines and dissects a giant squid specimen (foreground).
April 2008
Courtesy of Malcom Hall, MHTV Limited
Examining a giant squid
The team examine and dissect a giant squid specimen. They use an endoscope to look inside the body of the squid.
April 2008
Courtesy of Malcom Hall, MHTV Limited
The smaller colossal squid specimen
The team move the body parts of the smaller colossal squid specimen to the dissection table and start to examine it. In the background the colossal squid specimen continues to thaw in the tank.
April 2008
Courtesy of Malcom Hall, MHTV Limited