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In July 2008, the final stages of what U.S. military personnel dubbed “Operation Calamari” commenced when an unusual shipment of hazardous cargo—a fiberglass-tank holding 400 gallons of formalin (a zoological preservative), containing two rare specimens of giant squid—safely arrived aboard a C-17 at Dover Air Force Base from Spain, en route to the Smithsonian’s support center in Suitland, Maryland. As soon as the specimens arrived at the center, a team of Museum staff including scientists and exhibit specialists transferred the specimens to two specially designed airtight exhibit cases in which each giant squid was submerged in a unique preservative fluid—two and a half times denser than water—prepared by 3M Corp.
The two giant squid now in the Sant Ocean Hall exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History were collected in fishing nets off the Atlantic coast of northern Spain in 2005. The marine preservation and research organization Coordinadora para el Estudio y la Protección de las Especias Marinas or CEPESMA, acquired the rare specimens, which are now on permanent loan to the National Museum of Natural History.
The squid are enormous, but have significantly shrunk from their original size as a result of the formalin preservative. As fresh specimens the adult male measured six meters (20 feet) long and weighed 45 kilograms (100 lbs), and the juvenile female measured 11 meters (36 feet) long and weighed 150 kilograms (330 lbs).
The giant squid specimens, in their immense exhibit tanks, are now a highlight of the Sant Ocean Hall. Not only an inspiration for museum visitors, the giant squid provide biologists, like Smithsonian invertebrate zoologist and giant squid expert Clyde Roper, with a rare opportunity to gather additional research about this mysterious, elusive species.
- Giant squid have the largest eyes of any living species in the world, as big as a human head.
- Giant squid are enormous; they can grow up to 15 meters (50 feet) long and weigh as much as 450 kilograms (1,000 pounds). Reports from the 1800s suggest that giant squid could be much longer—up to 18.5 meters (60 feet)—but today’s scientists have never found a squid that long.
- As adults, sperm whales are a major predator of giant squid. Giant sucker marks found on some sperm whales indicate that giant squid probably put up a good fight.
- Scientists photographed a living giant squid in the ocean depths for the first time only a few years ago, in 2004.
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