Scientists examine the colossal squid as it thaws in a pool of brine in Wellington, New Zealand, 30 April, 2008
Although the squid is not fully thawed, measurements are already being made
Scientists in New Zealand are examining a rare intact colossal squid specimen that will soon be dissected by knife.
The 10-metre (34 feet) long, half-tonne carcass has been defrosting since Monday in Wellington, after the squid was trapped in a fishing net last year.
Very little is known about colossal squid; only about 10 specimens have ever been caught and brought to shore.
Scientists hope the dissection will yield new information about where and how they live and breed.
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa is showing the operation on a live webcast.
One of the first tasks will be determining the creature's gender.
"If we get ourselves a male it will be the first reported (scientific) description of the male of the species," noted Steve O'Shea, a squid expert at Auckland's University of Technology, who is among the scientific team of 10.
The Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni specimen was caught in February 2007 in the Ross Sea off Antarctica and was frozen on the ship before being donated to the museum.
Already, as the ice thaws, the creature's beak has emerged, and appears to measure about 5cm across.
Each tentacle is lined with hundreds of small hooks and its eyes - the first to be retrieved intact from a colossal squid - are about 25cm in diameter.
"It's endowed with a killer arsenal: the hooks, the beak, everything about it," said Mr O'Shea.
The team is also dissecting a much smaller colossal squid specimen that has part of its body missing, and a giant squid - a member of the Architeuthis genus.
Graphic of squid sizes. Image: BBC
The colossal squid grows heavier and probably longer than the giant squid
Architeuthis can be as long as colossal squid, but their bodies are smaller and thinner. Their tentacles also lack the swivelling barbed clubs that make Mesonychoteuthis a potent warrior and hunter - so potent that is has but one natural predator, the sperm whale.
Lacerations found on the outside of sperm whale's bodies suggest the two species regularly do mighty battle far beneath the waves.
Since 1925, only a few Mesonychoteuthis have been sighted, all in the seas around Antarctica which seem to be its principal home.
If this one does turn out to be male, that will increase scientists' suspicion that there must be bigger individuals out there, because females are thought to be the larger of the two sexes.
Later in the week, scientists are expected to give public lectures about their initial results.
Once thawed and examined, the squid will be embalmed and preserved.