Thursday, May 1, 2008

NZ Scientists stare into eyes of a giant squid

The biggest squid to be captured had a face that only a mother, or perhaps a marine biologist, could love —- until, perhaps, one had gazed into its eyes, which were said yesterday to be the largest on the planet.
After days of careful defrosting scientists in New Zealand began to uncover the mysteries of the rare colossal squid, including an eye that measured 27cm (11in) in diameter, which would have been 40cm when it was alive —- as big as a beachball.
The eye, with a lens the size of an orange, was found to be intact as scientists pored over a creature that was 8m (26ft) long and weighed almost 500kg (1,100lb) when it was caught accidentally in the Ross Sea, off the northern coast of Antarctica last year.
Kat Bolstad, a squid specialist at the Auckland University of Technology, said that the eye was the largest in the animal kingdom. “This is the only intact eye [of a colossal squid] that's ever been found. It's spectacular,” said Ms Bolstad, who was one of ten international scientists who examined the squid in Te Papa Tongarewa museum in Wellington.
A webcast of the operation was shown live to about 100,000 viewers and the squid will be put on display eventually at the museum.
The squid, believed to be a female, is the biggest specimen yet taken of the deep-water species Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni — and was every bit the frightening predator portrayed in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
It would have used six swivelling hooks mounted on the club-like ends of its tentacles to snare its prey. Farther up the tentacles, up to 19 fixed hooks with three razor points would have helped it to hold on to large quarry, which would be sliced into thumb-sized pieces and fed to its beaked mouth.
Beaks recovered from the stomachs of whales have been much larger than that examined yesterday, suggesting that even more monstrous creatures lurk in the inky depths.
“We certainly haven't seen the largest specimen yet,” Steve O'Shea, of the Auckland University of Technology, said. “Another individual may be as large as 750kg.”
Although it will avoid the fate of so many of its relatives that wind up as calamari, Tsunemi Kubodera, a Japanese squid specialist, said that he had tasted a piece of colossal squid. The verdict: edible but bitter.

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