21 February 1999
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research - NIWA
Greta Point, Wellington, New Zealand

Kebabs, Kiwiburgers and several hundred kilograms of Calamari

After a number of days of strong winds, overcast skies and occasional rain, Sunday morning dawned clear and crisp with the kind of scent in the air that one often finds after the rain has scrubbed everything clean. It was a glorious morning that greeted me as I stepped out onto my balcony on the sixth floor of the Hotel Raffaele overlooking Wellington Harbor. Perching my camera carefully on the balcony railing, I was in the process of shooting a number of pictures that eventually were composited to produce the image displayed above, when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that someone had stepped out onto the balcony next to mine. So that craggy profile that you see, looking out over the waters and mountains is none other than Clyde. It couldn't have turned out better if I had tried to plan it.

Today was certainly a day of stark contrasts. Being Sunday, we had the NIWA lab pretty much to ourselves so that the Discovery Channel film crew could spend many hours filming Clyde doing a very comprehensive dissection of yet another giant squid specimen that Steve O'Shea had stored in the freezer. Unlike yesterday's marvelously complete specimen, this one had been separated into two parts, with the mantle in one large bag and the head and arms in another. However, I am getting ahead of myself.

While Clyde and Ingrid were getting everything ready to do the dissection, Steve O'Shea and I found the time to make a run into Wellington Town Center to run a few errands. In the process, Steve gave me the grand tour around town, acting as tourguide. One of the things that really struck me was the colors that many of the buildings were painted with and the juxtaposition of the old and new architecture. Wellington is a very manageably sized city, never feeling overwhelmingly large. Streets are comfortably sized and the mountainous hillsides added a nice sense of adventure to the drive.

One of the prime errands that we needed to run was to bring back some lunch for Mike Sweeney. Half jokingly I suggested that we bring back some American fast food and surprisingly, both Steve and Mike jumped at the offer. So, Steve and I drove through Wellington in search of ..........

.........you guessed it..........


Rather than bring our "meals" back with us the the Lab, Steve and I took our orders upstairs where he ate the typical American Meal, A Big Mac with fries while I decided to "go native" and try what was billed as -- and trust me, I am not making this up -- a KiwiBurger.

Thinking perhaps that in the name of progress the locals decided to fry up their world famous flightless bird and put it on a roll, adorned with that special sauce, I sheepishly asked the person behind the counter to tell me what exactly a KiwiBurger was. Looking at me with an expression that seemed to say "how could anybody ask such a silly question", she answered with one word...... "beetroot". Never being one to shy away from a new experience, I decided to put aside any reservations that I might have had and went ahead and ordered one. I must be honest and say that the contrast between the beef patty and boiled beetroot was something that has to be experienced to be believed. Perhaps when I get home I will organize a letter writing campaign to bring the KiwiBurger to the States.

After such a marvelous lunch, what would have been more appropriate that to join Clyde in the wet lab room and work with him on the last stages of the squid dissection. The filming had just finished when we got back and Clyde was like a kid in a candy shop, so eager to show off many of the features that he was able to preserve, including the eyes and stomach contents. He and Steve, looking more like brain surgeons than the squid and octopus guys that they are, managed to find the two tiny objects that are analogous to the otoliths (ear bones) that are found in many fishes. These little white objects -- not much bigger than a grain of sand -- were buried deep within a large mass of white cartilage-type material. Talk about finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. However, they managed to find them both, and the statoliths were lifted out as if they were the crown jewels and placed in little jars for future analysis. The statoliths are used by the squid for maintaining proper orientation and much like tree rings, appear to be related in some way to the age of the squid.

One of the things that I was most fascinated to see, and even more so to hold, was the squid's parrot-like beak. The actual beak was much thinner than I had imagined but it was supported by a very thin and strong mass of cartilage and muscle, making it a most formidable structure, and not one that I would want to be on the receiving end of by any stretch.

Once all the "important" body parts were cut, tagged and bagged or bottled, it was time to clean up the mess that was left behind. I have had many experiences in my life that I can look back on with relish and pride, however, lifting the liver of a giant squid off the dissection table and placing it into a large styrofoam box so that it could be refrozen, may not be one of those. Mike, being most efficient at his job was busy cutting the chunks of squid into smaller pieces and distributing them evenly among the four boxes that we had available to us. Mike and I loaded the now filled boxes onto a small hand truck and carried them out to the freezer. We had one very close call with near disaster when as I was carrying one slightly overstuffed box from the hand cart into the freezer, I lost my balance for a moment and the box tipped. The lid fell off and the squid started to flow, yes FLOW out of the box and if my reflexes had not been fast enough, it would have covered the floor of the already overfilled freezer. The prospect of rummaging around on the floor of a large, walk-in freezer looking for squid guts was not my idea of a way to spend the remainder of the afternoon. When we returned, Clyde and Steve had found a hose and mop and were busily disinfecting the tables and floor.

Later that evening, Mike, Ingrid, Clyde and myself walked into the heart of Wellington from our hotel to finally sit down and have our first dinner in a restaurant. As we walked along the bayfront promenade, I was struck by all the activity both in the water and on the beach. The inhabitants of this place truly appreciate the wonderful setting of their city. Along the way we passed a small trailer that doubled as portable espresso bar. Finally, we came to the Parade Cafe, a restaurant whose atmosphere was only surpassed by the quality of the food we enjoyed. Although I ate my fill, Mike and I decided to take a walk around town afterwards. In our wanderings, I came across many restaurants that looked quite appealing even though I doubted that more food was anything that I really needed. However, when I came to this little place selling lamb kebabs, I couldn't resist and gave in to temptation. Sometimes, a person just has to do what his body is telling him to do. And was I ever glad that I did. All in all, it was a pretty good Sunday.

best regards and bon appetite,

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