Colossal squid on display gets check-up

Colossal squid on display gets check-up

We can all do with a check-up every so often – just to ensure things are going ok and we’re not falling apart.

Today our team took the lid off the colossal squid tank and started to drain out the preservation fluid so we can give the colossal squid a check-up. We last had the lid off the tank in March 2009.

Preparing to lift the lid off the squid tank.
Preparing to lift the lid off the squid tank. Copyright Te Papa, 2011
The lid is lifted off the squid tank.
The lid is lifted off the squid tank. Copyright Te Papa, 2011
Don lifts the lid on the squid tank.
Don lifts the lid on the squid tank. Copyright Te Papa, 2011

This gives our conservator Robert Clendon, and exhibition team members Hutch and Don a chance to see how the squid specimen is doing, and find out what’s going on in the tank. They are bravely doing all of this in the gallery space – so visitors can watch and ask questions.

The preservation of the colossal squid (the heaviest, bulkiest squid in the world, remember)  is an experiment. There are no guarantees! No one has done this before, so Te Papa’s team are learning as they go.

The liquid chosen to preserve the squid in is a glycol-water mixture. The squid has been in this liquid for 2 years. During this time the fluid in the tank has discoloured and there’s been a build of detritus in the base of the tank – both of which interfere with getting a good view of the squid.

We’re not sure why this is happening and that’s why we need to take a closer look  and try to work out what is going on. The fluid in the tank will be changed and we’ll be cleaning out the tank.

It will take about 5 hours for the tank liquid to drain out. We can then start assessing the condition of the squid, which will take a few days. Robert will be  doing a visual assessment, comparing the specimen with existing photos. He will also test samples of the tank liquid for pH and for biological activity, such as the presence of bacteria or moulds. These results will tell us if the squid is deteriorating or not.

Robert and Don examine the mantle of the colossal squid.
Robert and Don examine the mantle of the colossal squid. Copyright Te Papa, 2011

We do know that the squid specimen has contracted in size by about 5% after being in the preserving fluid. Robert is not sure why, but is confident that this is not because the squid is deteriorating – in fact the indications are that the specimen itself is in very good shape.

After the check-up is complete towards the end of this week we’ll be able to make informed decisions about the future of the colossal squid specimen. Once we know more about what’s been going on in the tank over the last 2 years, we can work out how long the squid can be kept on display and how often we need to change the tank liquid.

All of which helps us keep this incredible colossal squid out there for you to see.


  1. wow what a greate bloge from max!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. My class have loved the Squid Exhibition site and the great fun activities they have been doing.

  3. How big is the colossal squid?

  4. I was watching about the frozen colossal squid on cable and I was rather offended and disturbed when the voice-over narrated how the the scientists noticed a flaw in the design of the squid. I thought it was rather arrogant of the scientists to ascribe error to God who created the squid. Do they really believe they can out-do God and design a better squid?

    1. Then again, people are flawed to the hilt. Everything in this world is. Go figure.

  5. Why didnt you lend the squid alive to a aquariam?

    1. These animals can not survive at shallow depths. An aquarium would be out of the question unless you prefer to dig a 7’000 ft. hole in the ground for it.

  6. I wonder if the squid will “tour” after august 2012….

  7. Hi! This is maybe the most intriguing website I’ve ever been across! In terms of the propylene glycol, is it a “full strength” solution? Or, do you dilute it with water? I’m interested in preserving biological specimens in glycol, rather than formalin or alcohol. Please let me know! Many thanks!

  8. I am very glad to hear the old girls seems to be keeping well.
    Congrats to everyone there for doing such a first class job.

  9. Wow,
    Awesome guys, Why glycol? Isn’t that what people put into car radiators?

    1. You’re right – you can use glycol as an antifreeze in car radiators.

      We first preserved the colossal squid in formalin. But formalin is quite a hazardous chemical and for safety reasons it cannot be used in public spaces – such as Te Papa’s exhibition galleries.

      So for public display in the exhibition the formalin had to be replaced with another liquid preservative. The team decided to use glycol. Propylene glycol is a colourless, nearly odourless, syrupy liquid derived from natural gas. No one, as far as we know, has ever used glycol to store such a large biological specimen for a long time so it was a bit of an experiment.

      The check-ups our conservator Robert did last week seem to show that the colossal squid is in good shape and is not deteriorating – so the glycol is doing it’s job as a preservative and all is well.

  10. i love that squid!!!! <3

    1. Thanks Imogen – you are not alone!

  11. What I want to know is – will I lose 5% of my body weight if I loll around in glycol for a few months whilst receiving visitors? Beats going to the gym!

    1. argh! please don’t try this at home Kristelle … we need you too much!

  12. Hey that’s so cool and I love the fact that you are letting visitors see it all happening! Good luck with it all 🙂

  13. lovely present for St Valentine’s day.. squid check up! I have seen it down at Te Papa.. wonderful… Thank goodness we have somewhere like Te Papa so we can all view creatures of the sea.. thank you so much.

  14. The colossal squid is awesome – we love her!

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