CRUZ - Researchers dissected what they believe is a giant squid
Thursday at Long Marine Lab, but are far from answering some of the
most obvious questions about the dead animal, which was found on
Wednesday floating about 20 miles off the coast.
from UC Santa Cruz and the Hopkins Marine Station, among other
institutes, removed samples, checked for parasites and determined the
exact length and circumference of the animal - about 16 feet and four
feet, respectively. A fully intact giant squid is about 25 feet in
length, including its tentacles, according to Guy Oliver, a marine
biologist at UCSC.
Only after carefully studying the samples taken Thursday will the
necropsy yield possibly groundbreaking new information like whether or
not the squid belongs to the same species as the one photographed alive
in Japan in 2004.
The results of a genetics test, which will confirm whether it is in
fact a giant squid, will not be available for a couple of months,
according to Oliver.
Nonetheless, the scientists are 99 percent certain that it is a giant
squid, only four or five of which have ever been found in California
waters, according to John Field, a fishery biologist with the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Santa Cruz.
The giant squid possesses a distinctive beak and fin that could lead it
to be confused only with the colossal squid, an even more exceptional
animal, according to Sean Van Sommeran of the Pelagic
Shark Research Foundation, who spotted the floating squid while out looking for sharks on Wednesday.
Many of the squid's body parts were missing, bitten off by whatever
feasted on the animal before or after it floated to the surface of
Monterey Bay. Among them were the sex organs, preventing researchers
from determining the gender of the animal. The stomach, ink sack,
heart, eyes and large parts of the arms, tentacles and mantle also were
Nonetheless, the body is considered to be in relatively good condition.
"Whole ones that are in this good shape are pretty rare," said Bill
Gilly of the Hopkins Marine Station, who specializes in the study of
"It's not in the best condition, but it's probably better than anyone's seen in California," said Field.
The pieces found weighed a total of about 170 pounds, but Field
estimated that this was about 55 to 220 pounds less than a giant squid
with all its body mass intact would weigh.Gilly said what most
intrigued him most about the dissected animal was its chromatophores,
cells in its skin that reflect light and contain pigment.
"Unless the animal is almost transparent in light, I don't know what
function they could serve," he said. "I'm dying for them to cut it open
so I can look in there."
Researchers remain uncertain about the cause of death of the animal and
what predators or scavengers could have left the squid in its battered
"Judging by the size of the bites, it looks like a shark," Gilly speculated.
Other than the size of the missing pieces, there was little evidence to
support any supposition. "The flesh is so pliable and water-like that
you can't really see teeth marks," said Ken Baltz, an oceanographer for
NOAA who works with Field.
It also remains unknown whether the animal was killed by whatever
lunched on it or whether it was already dead. Giant squid, unlike many
other squid species, float when they die.
"It really is a mystery in terms of how it got there," said Van
Sommeran.The squid is being stored at the Long Marine Lab, but will be
transported to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History sometime in
the next couple of weeks, according to Field. Eric Hochberg, a giant
squid expert and curator of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology
there, will be in charge of the preservation and study of the animal.
"We don't really have the facilities here to store and preserve a large
specimen, and they do. He's the logical person to store it," said Field.
Contact Lisa Hirschmann at 706-3254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.