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Squid a monster but not a menace

New Zealand's mysterious colossal squid was not the T-Rex of the oceans but a lethargic blob, new research suggests.

New Zealand's mysterious colossal squid, the largest of the feared and legendary species ever caught, was not the T-Rex of the oceans but a lethargic blob, new research suggests. The 495 kg female, accidently hauled in by a fishing boat in the Antarctic last year, was an overweight breeding machine, leading marine biologist Dr Steve O'Shea said yesterday The colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni), donated to the country's national museum, was probably quite docile when alive, said Dr O'Shea.

"The colossal species has a reputation for being an aggressive and dangerous predator and has been feared and misrepresented in the past," Dr O'Shea said. "My research suggests they're not the T-rex of the sea, they get more docile as they mature, a strange phenomenon that has caught scientists off guard. "We are looking at something verging on the incredibly bizarre. As she got older she got shorter and broader and was reduced to a giant gelatinous blob, carrying many thousands of eggs," he said.

"Her shape was likely to have affected her behaviour and ability to hunt. I can't imagine her jetting herself around in the water at any great speed, and she was too gelatinous to have been a fighting machine. "It's likely she was just blobbing around the seabed carrying her brood of eggs, living on dead fish, while her mate was off hunting." The squid began to reveal its secrets to a team of fascinated scientists in April when it was thawed after being frozen on the fishing boat.

They were struck initially by her beach ball-sized eyes, describing them as the biggest known in the animal kingdom. The enormous eyes would help the squid locate prey in the dark of its habitat 1,000 metres or more below the surface of Antarctic waters. Two long tentacles carry up to 25 rotating hooks each, while eight arms each contain up to 19 fixed hooks used to capture prey and bring it to the squid's beaked mouth.

Dr O'Shea and his colleagues believe even larger squid lurk in the southern ocean depths. The New Zealand squid's lower beak measures around 40 centimetres across, while other beaks have been found - usually in the stomach of predator sperm whales - measuring up to 49 centimetres. Dr O'Shea said it is possible that colossal squid may grow to up to 750 kilograms, but there was not yet enough information to be sure.

The squid is expected to go on display in a special tank at Te Papa museum in Wellington later this year. She is believed to be the biggest complete adult of her species ever landed. Very little is known about the colossal squid because they live at extreme depths in Antarctic waters. * Agence France Presse

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