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Fishermen pick up dying giant squid

Univ. of Fla. / FMNH

A 25-foot-long giant squid is splayed out on a tarp after it was picked up by a fishing crew over the weekend.

Florida fishermen snared a real-life sea monster over the weekend: a giant squid measuring 25 feet in length.

"It's really, really, really rare to get giant squids because they're so huge, and live so deep," John Slapcinsky, a collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told me. For museum workers and scientists who specialize in giant squids, this specimen is quite the catch.


Jeff Gage / Univ. of Fla. / FMNH

University of Florida researcher Roger Portell injects preservative into the giant squid.

The animal was bobbing in the water when the fisherman chanced upon it on Sunday. They hauled it onto their boat, put it on ice, and brought it to shore. There, they alerted the Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation commission, who called in the Florida Museum of Natural History.

"I thought we definitely need to bring it in, because no one’s going to believe us if we don't," Robert Benz, one of the original squid finders, said in a press release. "I didn’t want to leave it out there and just let the sharks eat it."

Somewhere along the way, the squid died. 

It's now been relocated to the Florida Museum of Natural History, where Slapcinsky and his colleagues are preserving the massive invertebrate. "Soft bodied squids spoil easily," Slapcinsky told me.

The squid will be put through quite the regimen over the next month, and will be injected with and bathed in a cocktail of preservatives. These will kill the bacteria in the body of the squid and firm up the soft tissue of the animal, Slapcinsky explained.

Univ. of Fla. / FMNH

A tentacle coils out from the dead squid's body. Studying the creature and sequencing its DNA should help scientists determine how various breeds of deep-sea squid are related.

Because they're so rarely observed in the wild, or found dead (they get eaten pretty quickly), there's a lot that scientists don't know about the behavior of the enormous animals, like how they reproduce or what they eat. Also, a debate continues about whether giant squids make up a single species, or several, and Slapcisnky hopes that DNA analysis of this new squid will have some answers. 

It's not yet clear if the squid will make it into a museum exhibit, Slapcinsky says — the museum may not have the right equipment or the space to show off the spineless specimen. But it will be available for squid researchers to visit, to take a closer look. 

A large squid is hauled to shore after being found off Florida's coast. WPTV's Jon Shainman reports.

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Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science at msnbc.com. Find her on Twitter and join our conversation on the Cosmic Log Facebook page.