Friday Squid Blogging: Readying the 1000-lb Squid for Science

Interesting challenges:

“It’s got to be thawed out slowly. You can’t put hot water on it, you’ve just got to thaw it out naturally,” says Te Papa’s mollsuca collections manager Bruce Marshall.

To minimise handling of the precious specimen, the colossal squid will probably have its temperature raised, over days, in the tank in which it will finally be “fixed”.

“We don’t want to move it too much,” says Marshall.

“When a thing like that is in the water, it’s neutrally buoyant.

“But, of course, when you get it out of the water, you’ve got a big lump of weight and you could try lifting it and your hands would go right through.

“Already it’s got puncture marks from the net.”

Once un-frozen, the creature will be fixed, or embalmed, and then a long-term preservative will be used.

“What I mean by a fixing tank is a tank that you lay it out in, in a natural position, and you then make all the adjustments—align all the arms, pack out the body and all of that. Then you have it in a, say, 5% formalin solution.

“It will require the biggest tank of anything we’ve got.”

In further news, it might be microwaved. It’s actually a hard problem; how do you ensure that the defrosted parts don’t rot while waiting for the rest of it to defrost.

Posted on March 23, 2007 at 4:10 PM14 Comments


Anonymous March 23, 2007 4:58 PM

I am not a marine biologist, but I would think that defrosting it in the preservative solution would allow it to defrost with out rotting.

The microwave would just leave it rubbery, and tasteless. 😉

BWJones March 23, 2007 5:41 PM

how do you ensure that the defrosted parts don’t rot while waiting for the rest of it to defrost.

Hairdryers….. seriously. Using another approach, I might suggest using pumps to circulate a low concentration of fixative in saline and then gradually upping the concentration of the fixative until the desired 5% formalin is reached. At that point, you can then take tissue samples for various histological purposes or even post-fix those samples in glutaraldehyde for other histological protocols.

wumpus March 23, 2007 6:27 PM

I’m having trouble understanding how freezing the thing was easier than defrosting. Or do sushi ships spend a lot more money on freezing equipment than any marine biology department has lying around?


Calamari-beats-science March 23, 2007 7:01 PM

I don’t see the problem with defrosting it in a giant deep fryer – invite a few hundred people, tell them all to bring a slab. Problem solved.

Stuart March 24, 2007 12:14 AM

Perhaps one of the devices used for inducing hyperthermia in oncology patients would work. These are typical radio/microwave devices that are designed to create specific 3D conformal distributions of heat within a cancer patient.
A big squid isn’t too much bigger than a very large patient, and a dead squid doesn’t have the added complexity of a functioning circulatory system.

Terry Cloth March 24, 2007 6:25 PM

I’m having trouble reconciling size vs. storage.

How did they get a 20-meter squid into a 1-meter ice cube? It must pack very small. Being boneless, do they just pour it into a mold, to which it conforms perfectly?

esofthub March 25, 2007 5:57 AM

I was surprised they even recommended a microwave process. I imagine it would defrost in an uneven manner, which could promote rotting.

Christoph Zurnieden March 25, 2007 4:41 PM

The common way to thaw food, especially fish is to do it in the fridge over night. Temperature in the average refrigerator is, depending on the place inside the cooler, between 4 degrees Celsius (277.15K) and 10 degrees Celsius (283.15K). The proportion between volume and surface of the food might be a problem. It would have been better to freeze the squid in a plane instead of the large block, but that is to late now.

The method works quite well for small samples like the octopodes I got yesterday but these beauties were not longer than my thumb. They tasted very good when coated with some tempura (sp? it’s 天???ら in japanese) dough (with a bit of fresh chili and I always put some crushed ice into the dough, makes the result much more crunchier) and deepfried in cocoa butter (the yellowish raw type, not the white stuff which is refined and deodorized and completely tasteless). They look better if you dump them for some 10-20 seconds into boiling saltwater (about 10gr salt/litre) with some vinegar. But it’s only for the look (form and color) not for the taste. 10-20 seconds are way to short to transfer enough flavors.


Lee March 25, 2007 6:08 PM

Re: thawing in fixative

Fixative solutions don’t penetrate into huge chunks of tissue well – even in non-frozen specimens, if the piece is too big, and we’re talking more than a few centimetres or so – the middle bit breaks down….. For entire animals (mammals) – we pump fixative into the arteries, so it is distributed throughout the whole body – for a giant frozen squid – good luck!

Jason March 26, 2007 10:19 AM

Why wouldn’t they do it in a fridge? I read about this last week, that they might microwave it. It just seems like a refrigeration method would be the best, perhaps while maintaining and freezing the tentacles and other thinner portions, so they don’t start to decompose in the process.

Nate March 27, 2007 6:39 AM

Did anyone else notice that one of the microwave-proponents is also suggesting buttering the squid up before nuking it? (the “might” link in the original post) But seriously, couldn’t they refrigerate the thinner portions while continuing to microwave the thickest portions?

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.