Scientists in Wellington who today began examining the largest squid ever found say the 495-kilogram whopper wasn't fully grown when it was hauled from Antarctica's waters.
The colossal squid, scientific name Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, was caught by fishermen in February last year and frozen in a giant block of ice.
It is being carefully thawed, and initial examinations began in Wellington today.
Steve O'Shea, a marine biologist who is part of an international team looking at the creature, said he could tell from the creature's beak that it was not yet fully grown.
"Perhaps the colossal squid gets up to 750 kilograms. That is certainly not the largest specimen out there," he said.
Only 75 colossal squid have ever been recovered, but the one found last February is the best preserved and most intact.
Scientists have had to take great care to thaw the creature.
The squid's huge bulk would have taken days to defrost naturally, leaving the outside to rot while the inside remained frozen.
The creature is being gradually thawed in a tank filled with salty water. Because salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water, it will allow the freshwater ice block around the creature to melt, while the surrounding liquid is kept at about 0 degrees.
Scientists were disappointed to learn this morning that the creature was taking longer to thaw than hoped, meaning they've so far been unable to take detailed measurements or determine its gender.
But an initial examination had still yielded a lot of useful information, Dr O'Shea said.
"In 2003, when we had the first specimen, we didn't have any eyes. When we put a certain gadget in the water here we saw two of the most sensational eyes and they are both perfect. That is a highlight. That is probably the best thing so far," Dr O'Shea said.
The eyes of the colossal squid are the largest known in the animal kingdom, and those examined today were about 27 centimetres in diameter, although only about 10 centimetres are visible from the outside.
Mark Fenwick, a technician at Wellington's Te Papa Tongarewa Museum where the squid will be housed, admitted that scientists had yesterday snacked on part of another colossal squid being examined today.
"It was almost like a tua tua, you know a cockle. It was very nice. It left a real taste in your mouth and stayed for quite a while," he said.
"It was very much like [sashimi]. This is a gourmet meal. I don't know anyone else who has eaten Mesonychoteuthis."
Dr O'Shea said eating the squid was one way to determine whether the colossal type had ammonia in its system, as the giant squid does.
"The interesting thing about it is that it was non-ammoniacal. It tasted good, apparently," he said.
Two Swedish professors specialising in invertebrates' vision were also among the researchers waiting to examine the thawed carcass today.
Eric Warrant and Dan Nilsson, of the University of Lund, said they were rapt the thaw had already revealed the squid's eye, 27cm across, with a lens measuring between 10cm and 12cm wide.
Below the eye was a light-emitting organ, a photophore light cell, used by some other squid species for illuminating prey, or for signalling other squid.
"This is the largest eye ever recorded in history and studied," said Prof Warrant.
"The massive size of the eye indicates the animal is very visual.
"It has a huge lens the size of an orange and captures an awful lot of light in the dark depths in which it hunts."
One of the eyes was too damaged to preserve, and only minimally invasive investigations would be made of the remaining one.
"They're larger than dinner plates - they're truly fantastic eyes," Dr Steve O'Shea, a squid expert at Auckland's University of Technology, who is among the scientific team of 10.
Because parts of the body were still thawing when it was shown off to media, the colossal squid's overall length - expected to be about 8m - had not been measured.
"If we get ourselves a male it will be the first reported (scientific) description of the male of the species," Dr O'Shea said.
But he said today that so far the thaw had not disclosed a large penis or special arms for transferring packets of sperm to females, which made it more likely the specimen was a female.
Dr O'Shea said an early estimate of the squid's beak length at between 43mm and 45mm indicated it was not the biggest of its species.
Beaks found partly digested in sperm whales' stomachs have measured up to 49mm. Beak length is related to the overall size of the squid, but scientists will need many specimens to work out the exact size relationship between the beak and body mass.
When the interior of the squid thaws, Dr O'Shea and another AUT researcher, Kat Bolstad, will investigate the colossal squid with Tsunemi Kubodera of Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science. Their examination is being broadcast on the internet (http://www.r2.co.nz/20080427/rotate-1.asx).
The defrosted squid must be preserved in a formalin solution tonight before it starts to decay. After three or four weeks "fixing" in 7000 litres of formalin, it will be put on display in a purpose-built tank at the end of the year.
- NZPA, AAP