Monday, August 25, 2008

Museum adds giant squid to collection


The 5,000-strong squid and octopus collection at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History grew by only one member but got a lot bigger last Friday when scientists added a 30-foot giant squid to the inventory.
The elusive creature, which resides at 3,000 feet below sea level and has at times turned up in the Santa Barbara Channel, is rarely studied. According to scientists at the museum, this particular giant squid is one of the most intact specimens they’ve seen, which they hope will enable them to gain a better understanding of the species.

Dr. F. G. Hochberg, curator of invertebrate zoology at the museum, said a team of seven scientists from several institutions will conduct tests on the specimen, which was found in June floating in Monterey Bay.
As scientists busily gathered tissue samples from the giant squid last Friday, Hochberg explained the rareness of the animal, citing its seeming preference to live outside a school of other squid, a tendency that makes it difficult to spot. Even when humans are able to access the deepest depths of the sea in submarines, Hochberg said the creature is rarely seen.
“We think they’re just very rare,” he said.
According to Hochberg, giant squid are common in certain parts of the world, including the South Pacific near Australia and New Zealand, the North Atlantic and the waters off Japan, where much of the study on the species has occurred.
What’s not known, he said, is if the giant squid found near New Zealand is the same as that found near Santa Barbara. But Hochberg suspects the giant squid found off the coast of California is the same species as that near Japan, and DNA analyses on this squid should prove that.
Hochberg also said he hopes the giant squid at the museum will help shed light on the lifespan of the giant squid and where it fits into the food chain.
The new arrival to the museum’s squid collection will bring the number of giant squid samples there to six. Hochberg said the other five are relatively small pieces of the animal, which have been found at various locations.
While the giant squid Hochberg is currently analyzing is more complete than the other samples, he said it leaves much to be desired. Hochberg said it was gutted, likely by a shark, and birds had pecked out the eyes.
Since giant squid live at such an extreme depth, they’re usually discovered long after dying, and are usually fed upon by various species of sea life.
But this only adds to the elusiveness of the creature, which Hochberg said is amplified by the stereotypes about them. These include sailors being pulled off deck by the tentacled arms of a squid in the deep sea.
While this is merely a myth, there is little doubt that there is not much known about the giant squid.
“They carry a little bit of that same mystique as white sharks,” he said. “Just the fact that you have a 30-foot invertebrate lurking in the channel … it’s amazing.”

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