Construction of the new colossal squid display tank is almost complete, and we hope to transfer the squid into it on Wednesday 6th August.
The design of a tank to safely store and display the specimen has presented Te Papa with a considerable challenge and we have been assisted by Wellman Associates Ltd in Hawera and Etech Industries in Palmerston North.
Tank dimensions are approximately 4.6m long x 1.6m wide x 0.9m deep, and the design needed to make allowance for:
- lighting inside the tank;
- dealing with possible air bubbles in the storage fluid;
- it had to allow access for sampling the storage fluid to check acidity levels and for any signs of bacterial contamination;
- there has to be flexible panels to allow for contraction and expansion of the volume of fluid with temperature changes;
- Plus, allowing easy access for us to lift the 495 kg specimen in and out!
All of which has to be achieved while still making it easy for visitors to see the squid – including providing wheelchair access.
The specimen will be displayed with around 5,000 litres of storage solution. The total weight of the specimen, fluid and tank has meant we have had to check the floor loadings to find a suitable location for the display! Before we began, we looked at existing public displays of giant squid specimens around the world and considered two different tank types – stainless steel tanks with an acrylic lid which allow visitors to look down at the squid, but offers limited viewing from the side, or clear acrylic tanks which allow visitors to view the whole squid side on.
Finally we made the decision to build a stainless steel tank with an acrylic lid because this allows us to use more dramatic lighting without problems of reflection (an acrylic tank is much more difficult to light because of this). Any clouding of the fluid, or accumulation of debris from the specimen will be less obvious as it will sink to the bottom, and a curved acrylic lid will allow air bubbles to float to the sides and not impede the view of the squid. The mounting system for the specimen (a series of Perspex rods to hold the specimen in place) will be less obvious, and the top down view into the stainless steel tank will give more of a sense of “mystery and drama”.
The specimen has had several weeks in the formalin fixing solution, and is now much more rigid, so we will be able to handle it much easier than before when there was a risk of tearing the soft tissues. Firstly we will turn the specimen over (we still haven’t seen the top side!) and repair a split in the mantle which was damaged during the process of landing the squid on the fishing boat. Once the repairs have been made and the squid manoeuvered onto a lifting mat, we will lift it out of the fixing tank and into the display tank. We hope to have the webcam operational again, so viewers will be able to watch the process – details to come as soon as we finalise dates and times!
The transfer of the specimen to the display tank is only the first step. Once moved to the new tank the squid will have to be mounted on acrylic supports so that it doesn’t collapse into a humongous blob at the bottom, and rotated slightly so the eye can be seen. As the beak is concealed at the centre of the arms, we will also be displaying the beak (and various other parts, such as eggs, suckers and hooks), from the smaller dissected colossal squid – all of this part of the exhibition will have to be constructed, and text and labels prepared before we can even start thinking about installation in the gallery later in the year. Construction of the tank was contracted out to E-tech Industries in Palmerston North, while most of the display will be prepared in-house at Te Papa.