By Colin MacLean
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
It is estimated there are about 30 giant squid of varying levels of preservation on display in the world. So it might surprise you to learn Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the highest concentrations of them anywhere.
There are five giant squid corpses preserved for posterity in this province. Some of these specimens are well-known to the public, others haven’t seen the light of day in years.
These are the remnants of an estimated 60 giant squid that have washed ashore in Newfoundland and Labrador over the past 220 years.
In life each of these giant creatures had little to fear, as far as science is aware the giant squid’s only confirmed predator is the sperm whale.
In death each of these mysterious animals continue to amaze all who see them and each still has a story to tell.
Visitors to The Rooms (the Provincial Museum in St. John’s) this summer had to do without seeing one of the museum, archives and gallery’s star attractions. A 29-foot-long giant squid, which is usually housed at the museum, was pulled from its display in the late spring. Why was it removed? It got sick, sort of.
The specimen, which was found by a fisherman in Hare Bay, Nov 10, 1981, had developed a fungal infection and was starting to turn green, explained Randy Batten, collections manager of the natural history collection at The Rooms.
Batten attempted to treat the squid’s infection in its tank but his initial efforts proved fruitless.
“At the end of it, it was decided the best thing to do was to take it off display and treat it more aggressively in our facilities,” he said.
It is suspected that the fungus initially managed to enter the squid’s tank when its preservative was changed earlier this year.
Concentrated formaldehyde, a powerful embalming fluid, was originally used to preserve the squid. But formaldehyde is “pretty strong, pretty toxic stuff,” said Batten, so he had been attempting to find a less poisonous method of preserving the squid.
But since the infection, the specimen has been moved back into formaldehyde and Batten expected to put it back on display later.
Transferring the perserved squid into its display tank is a big job and Batten was waiting for summer vacations to pass so the staff he’ll need will be available.
The second giant squid owned by The Rooms is stashed in a section of the annex that acts as home to the natural history department.
The sex of that specimen has never been determined. It was found on Fogo Island in 1982 and is in pretty bad shape. Before it was recovered the squid had most of its tentacles and its fins eaten away. Because of its poor condition it was never put on display. Both squid are the final specimens examined by renowned Newfoundland giant squid specialist Fred Aldrich.