There are many strange and wonderful animals to meet in the Sant Ocean Hall, but perhaps none as mysterious and thrilling as the giant squid. Not seen alive by human eyes until just a few years ago, the giant squid has spawned fantastic stories and myths of huge, hungry, many-tentacled sea creatures. You will have a chance to see for yourself; in the ocean hall, you can meet not one, but two giant squid. But getting them here was no easy feat.
Huge but elusive
Despite their huge size, until 2004 when the Japanese captured one briefly on film, few people had ever seen a giant squid alive in its own natural habitat. They had washed up on shores, and scientists had found whales with squids in their stomachs and scars from squid suckers – but live giant squid have eluded humans and very little is known about their lives.
Did you know? A scientist who studies squid is called a teuthologist.
New specimens for the ocean hall
Over the years, scientists have studied specimens that had been taken in commercial fishing catches or had washed ashore. There are now about a dozen giant squid on display in museums and aquaria worldwide. The National Museum of Natural History had one on exhibit until recently [see http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/squid.html to learn more] and originally planned on displaying this specimen in a new, improved tank. However, the specimen had seen better days. Ocean hall curator Dr. Michael Vecchione – who studies squid – had contacts in Spain, including the research organization CEPESMA, which has collected several giant squid specimens. After initial discussions, CEPESMA agreed to donate two new specimens for the Ocean Hall.
Two will hold court together
One of the specimens is a male caught in July 2005. He is almost 20 feet long, has tentacles of about 15 feet and weighs slightly more than 100 pounds.The female was also caught in July of 2005, in the ocean off of northern Spain. She is about 36 feet long with tentacles of 22 feet. She weighs more than 330 pounds.
Designing their display tanks
Displaying specimens of this size is a challenge – so much so that the museum has hired a company that specializes in tank design . These tanks must hold between 1,500 and 1,800 gallons, be completely airtight, contain valves and openings for refilling preservative fluid when necessary and taking tissue samples, and be equipped with appropriate gear for anchoring all body parts and tentacles to prevent floating. Click here to learn more about how the museum will display wet specimens in the ocean hall.
It’s all in the timing
The timing was also tricky. International shipping regulations prohibit transportation of hazardous materials in an airplane. Our squid could not begin their journey until their tanks were completely finished and ready to receive them. Once that was done the specimens were wrapped carefully in cheesecloth and crated tightly for their trip. Several squid specialists accompanied them on their flight. As soon as they arrived, they were met by Smithsonian personnel and immediately installed into their new quarters at the ocean hall.
In the hall you will be able to view a mysterious animal long-searched-for but seldom found, about which scientists have a great deal yet to learn. They will have traveled a long way to meet you. We hope you enjoy them!
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