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Source: University of Waikato

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.

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.”