Rare giant squid caught in the Bay of Plenty will assist MPI research

23 June 2020

Professor Chris Battershill, University of Waikato marine scientists, students and the 80kg giant squid that was caught in the Bay of Plenty last week. Photo supplied by Daniel Hines, Sunlive.

A giant squid caught off Whakaari/White Island last week, will be used by University of Waikato marine scientists to look into the effects of the Whakaari emissions after the December 2019 eruptions.

As part of a research programme funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and co-developed with Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, the project is led by Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Nick Ling and Associate Professor of Mātai Moana Marine Research Kura Paul-Burke, and aims to determine the uptake of toxic elements like mercury, arsenic and cadmium that are released in geothermal emissions.

Last Thursday, Professor Chris Battershill and marine science students based at the Coastal Marine Field Station, took flesh samples from the 80kg squid to test for toxins.

“There were fish kills after the eruptions so we wanted to have a look at how far through the food chain everything is going,” says Chris.

“It's tragic what's been happening there, but the island itself is one of the few places in the world where you've got carbon dioxide seeping out of the marine sea floor, but at a shallow depth.

“So it's kind of like a living laboratory for climate change and looking at the effects of ocean acidification.”

The squid was caught by the crew of the Margaret Philippa, in a net of orange roughy at a trawl depth of 1000m. Skipper Roger Rawlinson of Moana Fisheries says they often get squid as a bycatch but nothing of this size. After hauling it in, Roger immediately thought to contact Chris Battershill so it could be used for scientific purposes.

Marine science students and onlookers watched in awe as the squid was hoisted by crane onto a double flat-bed trailer outside the Coastal Marine Field Station at Sulphur Point. Chris and his students took samples of the flesh, as well as eggs that will be cryo-preserved then possibly hatched to understand the life cycle better.

The species is believed to be a Dana Octopus Squid (Taningia danae), or Strobe Squid.

Although the squid is yet to be properly identified, it is believed to be a Taningia danae, Dana Octopus Squid or Strobe Squid. This is a rare species that lives in very deep water and is eaten by sperm whales. It’s called the strobe squid because of the phosphorescing 'pods' (photophores) on the tips of two of its arms that are used to disorient prey in the dark waters at depth. Estimated to be around 3m in length and weighing well over 80kg, Chris thinks this specimen is getting up to be the largest ever recorded.

The squid was transported to a University of Waikato science laboratory at the Tauranga CBD campus. It will stay frozen while it awaits a full taxonomic inspection and dissection. This is likely to be carried out at the Auckland Museum sometime in the next month.

Chris says the lifecycle of squid is quite short and the one that was caught would have likely died after spawning. The catch, which included many other deep water species, shows the vibrancy of the ocean around the Bay of Plenty.

“They're getting orange roughy and other cold water species out there, so you’ve got these sub-Antarctic fish and yet in the surface waters around the Bay, you're increasingly seeing sub-tropicals like lion fish.

“Before our very eyes, we are experiencing a changing marine climate.

So as a marine science centre, we're in exactly the right spot.”

Latest stories

Related stories

Understanding risks and uncertainty key to protecting our oceans

A University of Waikato researcher is part of a $70 million 10-year Government programme to…

Present Lake Onslow Reservoir on the left.

University of Waikato scientist helps New Zealand move towards 100% renewable energy

The Government will invest $30 million into investigating a proposed hydro storage scheme at Lake…

Wise up: How insights from Māori leadership can create a better world

In her upcoming public lecture on 1 September, Professor Chellie Spiller will draw on the…

It’s Armageddon for University Esports

This weekend (25 & 26 July), the University of Waikato is keen to show esports…

Man driving car

Backseat drivers are more helpful than you think

Having a passenger in the car can make a trip safer and more enjoyable, compared…


Māori astronomer receives Prime Minister's award

University of Waikato Professor Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe), has been awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Communications…


University of Waikato Tauranga Campus wins top Australasian award

The University of Waikato Tauranga Campus scooped a top award for its innovative learning environment…


University of Waikato offers fast-track to engineering

Engineering hopefuls, and those looking for a career change, may get an early foot in…

Waikato students engineer the perfect flatting set up and study bubble

When almost the entire first-year engineering cohort from the University of Waikato Tauranga campus moved…

University of Waikato

University of Waikato shows how large organisations can tackle contact tracing

While many businesses across the Waikato have adopted some form of contact tracing as part…

University of Waikato Masters student wins international chemistry scholarship

University of Waikato Masters student Nyssa Hewitt has been awarded the 2020 Harvey W. Wiley…

Sociology student creating meaningful experiences for disabled youth

Emma Dalton's new role with Recreate NZ, a provider of social and recreational services to…