27 Mar 2018

Sam and the colossal squid

From Ours: Treasures from Te Papa, 7:00 am on 27 March 2018

She came all the way from the Ross Sea, to lie in central Wellington. And she is a she. A female colossal squid that surprised the world.

When a 300kg specimen was found in 2003, speculation that some colossal squid could weigh as much as 500kg was met with some skepticism. Then in 2007 a longline trawler chasing toothfish in the Ross Sea came across a 470kg specimen and the proof was hauled from the ocean as the cameras rolled. Colossal squid could really be that colossal.

Visitors view Te Papa's colossal squid

Visitors view Te Papa's colossal squid Photo: Te Papa/Michael Hall

The giant creature has since been housed in Te Papa and is one of the museum's star attractions. It's the only one on display in the world and, perhaps, a sign of New Zealand's significance as the "last, loneliest, loveliest" place before you hit the frozen land of Antarctica. The squid and its popularity speaks to New Zealand's scientific curiosity and connection to the seas that surround us as an island nation. Certainly, nearly-10 year-old Sam Cousins is a fan. And full of facts.

Noelle McCarthy and Sam Cousins discuss the colossal squid at Te Papa, Wellington

Noelle McCarthy and Sam Cousins discuss the colossal squid at Te Papa, Wellington Photo: Noelle McCarthy/RNZ

" They have three hearts. Their eyeballs are the size of soccer balls," he says.

He's been visiting the squid for years, and he's not the only one. Te Papa's Collection Manager of Sciences, Andrew Stewart, says it's been an aquatic attraction for experts. You see, for all Sam's facts, we know very little about them.

"It was a unique opportunity for scientists from around the world to come and look at the whole animal, not just extrapolate from the bits and pieces we've had in the past; what sex it is, how mature is it; how big do they actually get; what are the dimensions of the different parts of the body..."

It's a rare scientific bonus to come from fishing industry by-catch.

"Catching a whole specimen in Antarctica, bringing it back, those excellent relationships we have with the observers and the seafood industry making scientific specimens available, we're learning more and more. Every specimen that comes in gives us more and more information that we didn't know before and we keep finding new things right under our noses."

Andrew Stewart, Collection Manager of Sciences at Te Papa

Andrew Stewart, Collection Manager of Sciences at Te Papa Photo: Te Papa/Norm Heke

That will mean more facts for Sam - and all who still have a bit of the nearly-10 year-old in them.

"They can see in the dark because they have the biggest eyes in the world," Sam says. "And it's funny how their blood is blue."

*The colossal squid will go into storage shortly after Easter until Te Papa opens its new nature zone early next year.


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