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Amazing Specimen Of World's Largest Squid Caught In New Zealand

11/08/2006 00:00:00 news/Colossal-Squid
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 ever seen arriving in New Zealand.

‘Colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) are estimated to grow up to 12-14 metres long and have long been one of the most mysterious creatures in the deep ocean. This 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,’ said fisheries minister Jim Anderton.

The squid is frozen and is being stored before being transferred to Te Papa (New Zealand’s national museum) 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 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.’


  • 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.
Colossal squid with skipper John Bennett of the San Aspiring. © Ministry of Fisheries, New Zealand.
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.

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