PARIS (AFP) — France's National Museum of Natural History on Tuesday unveiled the world's first "plastinated" squid -- a 6.5-metre-long (21.25-feet) deep-sea beast donated by New Zealand and named in honour of a creature featuring in Maori legend.
Plastination entails replacing the animal's water, fat and other liquids with a polymer that hardens.
It means the specimen can be appreciated in three dimensions in a dry, solid state, rather than in a jar filled with formalin or alcohol, whose glass distorts the view.
The squid was hauled up in January 2000 at a depth of 615 metres (2,000 feet) by fishermen off New Zealand.
It has been baptised Wheke, after Te Wheke o Muturangi, which according to Maori mythology was a sea monster that drew Polynesians in an ocean-going canoe to Aotearoa, "the land of the long white cloud," as New Zealand is known in its native tongue.
The 65,000-euro (100,000-dollar) plastination, carried out by Italian lab VisDocta Research, took two and a half years, during which the specimen of Architeuthis sanctipauli lost 2.5 metres (seven feet) of its length through drying out.
Wheke is being given pride of place in the Paris museum's Great Gallery of Evolution, its centrepiece exhibit on biodiversity.
The giant squid, Architeuthis, of which there are three sub-species, is a potent source of maritime tales of tentacled monsters able to grab a ship and pull it down to its doom. The critter memorably featured in Jules Vernes' "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," trying to engulf the submarine Nautilus.
In real life, though, the species is rather less gigantic -- about 13 metres (42.25 feet) from the caudal fin to the tip of its suckered tentacles. Females are larger than males.
The colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, is bit bigger, though. At around 14 metres (45.5 feet) in length, it is the planet's biggest invertebrate.
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