Amazing specimen of world's largest squid in NZ
22 February, 2007
Co-operation and care from a commercial fishing crew and a Ministry of Fisheries observer led to the best specimen of an adult colossal squid arriving in New Zealand, the Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said today.
"Colossal squid with the scientific name of Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni is estimated to grow up to 12 to 14 metres long and has long been one of the most mysterious creatures in the deep ocean.
"The colossal squid has just arrived in New Zealand and it is likely that it is the first intact adult male colossal squid to ever be successfully landed. The scientific community will be very interested in this amazing creature as it adds immeasurably to our understanding of the marine environment," Jim Anderton said.
The squid is frozen and is being stored in the Sanford’s cool store in Timaru, before being transferred to Te Papa to be preserved for scientific study.
“The squid was almost dead when it reached the surface, and the careful work of the crew was paramount in getting this specimen aboard in good condition.”
The vessel was long lining for toothfish and the squid was eating a hooked toothfish when it was hauled from the deep.
"The crew stopped winching in the long-line for two hours, while the squid was manoeuvred into a cargo net and hauled aboard. It was then stored safely in the hold. The diligence shown by the crew and the fisheries observer has preserved this exciting specimen for scientific study. This is one of the many deepwater specimens our commercial fishing fleet has provided to science over the years.
"All New Zealand boats fishing in Antarctic waters have Ministry of Fisheries observers on board to monitor the catch, compliance with rules, and to help with collecting specimens.
“The excellent co-operation between Te Papa, the MFish Observer Programme, and the New Zealand fishing industry, has made this once in a lifetime opportunity an exciting reality," Jim Anderton said.
“The colossal squid will be photographed, measured, tissue sampled, registered and preserved intact into the Natural Environment collection. On-going examination of this giant will help to unlock some of the mysteries of the deep ocean. Even basic questions such as such as how large does this species grow to, and how long does it live for are not yet known.”
Jim Anderton said toothfish fishing in Antarctic waters is highly regulated and is overseen by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), made up of 24 member nations.
“New Zealand notifies its intention to fish in CCAMLR waters to the Commission on an annual basis depending upon the level of interest from New Zealand companies. The Commission then decides on the number of vessels allowed access to each fishery under CCAMLR management.
“Continued access for a vessel is based on its past performance in the fishery and vessels granted access to fish in CCAMLR water must adhere to strict conservation rules, undertake research work and carry observers so all activity is monitored.
“New Zealand vessels have been fishing down to the Ross Sea area since 1997/98 and have provided much information to the New Zealand scientific community, which is analysed and presented to CCAMLR.”
Mr Anderton said many of the research techniques and environmental standards developed by New Zealand vessels have become international best practice and have been transferred to other CCAMLR areas as mandatory requirements.
Colossal squid are found in Antarctic waters and are not related to giant squid (Architeuthis species) found around the coast of New Zealand. Giant squid also grow up to 12 metres, but are not as heavy.
A key difference between the two species is the size of the mantle (body) in relation to the tentacles. The colossal squid has a much larger mantle and smaller tentacles than the giant squid, and is a much heavier animal.
Another difference is the sharp swivelling hooks the colossal squid has in the suckers at the tips of its tentacles, suggesting it is an aggressive hunter. The giant squid has suckers lined with small teeth.
The colossal squid was caught by the New Zealand vessel San Aspiring, owned by Sanford Ltd and was fishing for Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea.
The squid was taken on board by crew and is thought to weigh about 450kg.
It is likely to be the most intact adult colossal squid ever caught.
It was brought to the surface on a long-line that had been set for toothfish and was holding on to a toothfish when first seen. The crew stopped fishing and all care was taken to get it aboard and preserve it as a specimen for science.
The squid was barely alive when it reached the surface and observers and crew thought it would be very unlikely to survive if released.
The squid was taken on board by lowering a cargo net, manipulating it into it and hauling it aboard. The process took about two hours and once the specimen was safely stored aboard, fishing recommenced.
The squid was put into 1.5m2 bin with a 1200 litre capacity and placed in the freezer in the hold below deck. It filled about two thirds of the bin.
The squid arrived in New Zealand earlier this month and is currently being stored by Sanford Ltd.
Toothfishing, conservation and observers
The toothfish fishery in Antarctic waters targets two species - Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) and Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides). Toothfish grow up to two metres long and are a sought after table fish in the United States and Europe.
Fishing activity is regulated by an international body known as the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The amount of fish that can be caught for the year is set by member countries at the Commission’s annual meeting.
Companies and vessels that want to target toothfish must apply to the Ministry of Fisheries for a permit and there is a very strict selection criteria. The number of New Zealand vessels granted access to fish in CCAMLR waters is decided by the Commission at its annual meeting.
New Zealand boats fishing the area take two observers – one from the Ministry of Fisheries and one from another member country of CCAMLR.
Observers monitor fishing practices and catch and the Ministry of Fisheries observers make sure boats adhere to the strict conservation rules for fishing in the Antarctic, particularly the storage of rubbish.
The observers also take part in ongoing research by tagging and releasing fish, undertaking biological sampling, taking specimens and monitoring other vessel sightings.
As part of a vessel’s permit, observers can retain samples taken at sea. The Ministry observer did that in this case with co-operation and ongoing logistical support from Sanford Ltd.
Colossal squid information
Colossal squid are only known from a few specimens, estimates put its maximum size at 12 to 14 metres. It is the largest known squid species and the world’s largest invertebrate. It is believed to have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom.
The animal was first described in 1925 from two tentacles found in the stomach of a sperm whale. The squid’s known range is from Antarctica to the southern extremities of South America, South Africa and New Zealand.
Analysis of sperm whale stomachs suggests the colossal squid makes up three quarters of the diet of large sperm whales and it is likely there are large numbers of them in Antarctic waters.
Only a handful of colossal squid have been sighted. One was caught in the net of a Russian trawler in the Ross Sea at depth of 760m in 1981, another found near the surface in 2003 and another near South Georgia Island was brought up from a depth of 1625 metres on a toothfish longline in 2005.
It is believed that colossal squid hunt large fish, such as toothfish, and other squid.
Images of Colossal squid
Colossal Squid (387KB)
Colossal Squid 1 (393KB)
Colossal Squid with skipper John Bennett (964KB)