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Sunday September 30, 2007

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NZ's colossal squid to be microwaved

Page 1 of 2 View as a single page 10:50AM Friday March 23, 2007
By Kathy Marks 
The colossal squid caught by New Zealand fisherman may be defrosted by a giant microwave oven. Photo / Reuters

The colossal squid caught by New Zealand fisherman may be defrosted by a giant microwave oven. Photo / Reuters

The monster from the deep faces the ultimate indignity: being microwaved in the interests of science.

The colossal squid landed by New Zealand fishermen last month is now officially the largest ever caught, after weighing in at 494kg, or about half a ton, nearly 45kg heavier than initial estimates.

But scientists itching to study it more closely face the challenge of how to thaw it out.

The massive creature was frozen to preserve it during its journey from Antarctica to New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, in the capital, Wellington.

The problem with leaving the 10 metre-long squid to defrost naturally at room temperature, experts say, is that the process would take so long - probably several days - that its outer tissue would rot while they waited for inner sections to thaw.

Steve O'Shea, one of the world's leading squid experts, said yesterday that one solution under consideration was putting it in a giant microwave oven.

"Obviously not a Fisher and Paykel commercial grade thing, but there are certain microwave equivalents that are used by industry for treating timber that we could probably fit this thing into," he said.

"Somebody told me that could probably do it in a couple of minutes to an hour. But that is just one option. We want to make sure we use the best process."

The challenge of figuring out how to defrost New Zealand's new aquatic celebrity has gripped the public.

Mr O'Shea, who will be studying it once it is thawed, said that 426 people had written to the museum with suggestions.

The fishermen were long-lining for Patagonian toothfish, or Chilean sea bass, in the Southern Ocean when they netted the colossal squid.

It took them two hours carefully to land the gigantic creature, which was feasting on a large toothfish at the time.

Colossal squid, which for centuries have fuelled legends of deep sea monsters, are believed to grow to up to 14m long.

But only a few intact specimens have ever been hauled ashore.

This one, which is frozen in a one metre square cube of ice and stored in a large container, was weighed last week.

"It's even heavier than we thought," said Mr O'Shea.

It is by far the largest example of the species, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, ever caught, 195kg heavier than the previous record-breaker, an immature female landed on the surface of the Ross Sea, off the Antarctic coast, in 2003.

This latest specimen has eyes as big as dinner plates, and would yield calamari rings the size of tractor tyres - although, according to Mr O'Shea, they would taste like ammonia.

Its gender has not yet been determined, but it is suspected to be a female.

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