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

One Giant Squid to Go, please

The saying, "What a way to start the day," is often overused in today's world. However, I can think of no better way to describe how our morning began than by using that time honored expression. Within minutes of arriving at the NIWA laboratories, Clyde's ever present cellular telephone rang and it was Steve O'Shea at the other end of the line telling Clyde that yet another giant squid had been captured in one of the deep water fishing trawls and that we should rush down to the National Museum to pick it up. In what seemed like only seconds, Clyde, Steve and I were hurtling through the streets of downtown Wellington on our way to the Museum. One of the more interesting customs that I have come to observe here in Wellington is the behavior of drivers as they make their way through the Victoria tunnel. Many years ago, some civil engineer must have decided that it was going to be easier to bore an enormous hole directly through one of the hills in Wellington and run a road through it, rather than to try and figure out a way to make the road go over it. When Steve first drove me through the tunnel, as soon as we entered it, he tooted the car's horn. To my mind, I figured that he was just trying to impress me with the acoustics of the tunnel. And to be quite honest, I was very impressed because for quite some time, I heard what sounded like echoes of our horn in the distance. But then Steve did it again and this time, the echo was actually louder than the original. Now I may not be an acoustical engineer, but I do know that echoes are usually never as loud as the original. It turns out, as Steve so happily explained, that there is a tradition of honking one's horn at other cars going through the tunnel and they honk theirs in return. To my untrained ears, it sounded more like a flock of Canadian Geese flying overhead than cars saying hello to each other, but who was I to judge another country's customs?

We soon reached the National Museum and made our way up the freight elevator to Bruce Marshall's office where there, propped up in a shopping cart was about a 30 kilogram frozen block that was the remains of yet another giant squid from New Zealand Waters. By Steve's count, that makes four Architeuthis specimens that have been found in just this year alone. Clyde and Bruce talked for a while about things with names that had absolutely no meaning to me and then they went off into one of the labs and Clyde started poking around with what looked like a pair of chopsticks in a tray of little, preserved creatures including a very cute (well, beauty IS in the eye of the beholder) octopus that was no more than four inches long. Clyde was beside himself with joy as he wheeled the cart into the freight elevator for the trip back to NIWA. As we emerged from the Victoria tunnel again, I got to thinking about the fact that here we were, driving through the streets of downtown Wellington with one of the most elusive creatures on the face of the earth, slowly defrosting the in boot (trunk) of Steve's white Toyota Corolla. To use Clyde's words, "it certainly seems like Kaikoura is the place to be!"

When we got back to the lab, Clyde and Steve carefully opened the plastic bag that the squid was wrapped in and pulled out the tag that the observer had written which described where (approximately 440 meters) and when (February 12, 1999) the squid was caught. Covering the outside of the squid were small, white, threadlike strands. Clyde told me that these were the squid's spermatophores and that in all likelihood, this squid was a small male. At just that moment, one of the NIWA scientists who had been here the other night to help carry the other squid from the dissection room into the formalin tank happened to walk by and I called out "this is your lucky day." The two of us lifted the squid out of the car and carefully placed it on a shelf in the large, walk-in freezer. Walking back to the Lab afterwards, I noticed that yet again, I had managed to cover myself with that distinctive, yet very rare odor of giant squid.

Having just enough time to wash off (although the scent of giant squid is something that seems to linger no matter how hard or how long you wash), Clyde and I rushed down to King's Wharf to watch the Kaharoa's crew prepare to hoist Deep Rover from the dock onto the ship. The first thing that needed to be done was to pull Deep Rover far enough out of its shipping container so that the hoisting strap on the top on the sub could be grabbed by the crane. Using a forklift and great care, the forklift operator under the direction of the Nuytco crew gentle maneuvered the sub halfway out of the container. It was at this time that Clyde had his first real chance to "kick the tires." He walked around the sub, peering through the 5 inch thick acrylic sphere to the pilot's seat and where, attached right next to it, was a little gauge with the name "lev-o-gage" printed on it. I can only imagine what it must feel like when the gauge is reading its maximum, 45 degrees off horizontal. This was also the first time that I got to see Deep Rover. It is certainly a marvelous little machine....with the emphasis on the word "little".

Without too much effort, the large shipping container which contains all the gear, parts and support equipment for the sub was hoisted off the dock and lowered onto the deck of the Kaharoa, in the place that was cleared for it the day before. For several hours, the Nuytco crew carefully checked the sub over, and started familiarizing Mike and Clyde, the two members of the expedition who will be piloting Deep Rover, with some of its features. To open the two halves of the sphere, Ian inserted a large, hand-held crank into a screw just beneath the sphere and started turning it. I couldn't help thinking that it looked like an old comedy movie where the way to start a car was to put a crank into the engine and turn like mad. As Ian turned the crank, the sphere slowly started to move apart at the bottom until the gap was wide enough for one person to be able to crawl through - with shoes off and socks on. Both Mike and Clyde had a chance to get into the sub and see what it felt like to sit in the pilot's seat and put their hands on the control grips. After a while, it was time for the crane to hoist Deep Rover and with ever so much care, swing it across the dock and lower it gently to the fantail....right beneath the Kaharoa's massive A-frame gantry.

Later that evening after all the "work" was done and I had managed to warm up after spending most of the day standing on a very cold, windswept dock, I took a walk into Wellington and sat along the bayfront promenade. Each day I am amazed at the beauty of Wellington and the friendliness of every single person that I had a chance to meet. New Zealanders seem to be very proud of their city and I for one can understand that completely.


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