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October 2021

Object Title:  Casts of colossal squid beak and clubs

Object Number: 2020.13

These objects are replicas of the beak and clubs from a colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni).

The colossal squid, often called the Antarctic squid, is believed to be the largest squid species in terms of its mass and is one of the main prey species of the sperm whale.

The beak and mouth part

The species was first discovered in 1925 from remains found in the stomach of a sperm whale. In fact, the largest specimens have been estimated by remains of the beaks found in this way. Although the colossal squid is quite abundant in the Southern Ocean, its life and reproductive cycle remains one of the oceans great mysteries.  The squid are not targeted by fishermen and only get caught by accident on hooks.  Being endemic to the Southern Ocean, interaction with humans is rare and only 12 complete specimens have ever been recorded. Of these 12 only half being full adults.

Little is known about their behaviour but it is believed to feed on large fish prey and is an important predator in the Antarctic food chain. Many other animals around the coast of South Georgia feed on these squid including albatross, southern elephant seals and its predator and competitor, the toothfish. The colossal squid is unique because it has rotating hooks on the end of its tentacles. These tips are called the clubs and are used for grabbing and holding prey.

Colossal squid clubs

The original specimen that the casts were taken from was captured in 2005 by a fishing ship off South Georgia. It was the first full living specimen ever captured. Its length was estimated at over 2.5m with the tentacles measuring 2.3m. The animal is thought to have weighed between 150 and 200 kg’s.

In 2013 a colossal squid measuring almost 4m long was caught deep in the Southern Ocean. It was preserved in ice so that it could be donated to science. It was so well preserved that the scientific investigation was streamed to a live audience. The squid has been preserved in fluid and is now on permanent display in the Te Papa Museum in New Zealand.

These casts were produced by Steve Massam by taking moulds from the animal before it degraded. The colossal squid is such a rare find that these wonderful casts and moulds still remain important to science today.

Steve Massam, a taxidermist, with the beak of a colossal squid © 2006 Paul Sutherland Photography