Scientists have examined a colossal squid that was caught in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea.

Captain John Bennett and his crew hauled up the creature with tentacles like fire hoses and eyes like dinner plates from a mile below the surface.

The squid weighed 770lb, is as long as a minibus and is one of the sea's most elusive species.

It had been frozen for eight months until yesterday, when scientists in New Zealand got a long-anticipated chance to thaw out the creature and inspect it - once they used a forklift to manoeuvre it into a tank.

Huge squid sometimes inhabit the world of fiction and imagination, but have rarely been seen in daylight.

It is possible that ancient sightings of the species gave rise to tales of the kraken, or giant sea-monster squid, said Kat Bolstad, a squid scientist from the Auckland University of Technology who led the team examining the creature.

She said sperm whales often eat colossal squid and are known to play with their food, and sailors may have mistaken that for epic battles.

"On the other hand, we don't really know what the grog rations were like at that time at sea, either," she said.

"So it may be that we've got a bit of a fisherman's story going on there, too."

She described this rare specimen as "very big, very beautiful".

The squid is a female, and its eight arms are each well over a yard long. Its two tentacles would have been perhaps double that length if they had not been damaged.

"This is essentially an intact specimen, which is almost an unparalleled opportunity for us to examine," Ms Bolstad said. "This is a spectacular opportunity."

Many people around the world agreed - about 142,000 people from 180 countries watched streaming footage of the squid examination on the Internet.

Remarkably, Captain Bennett and his crew on the San Aspiring toothfish boat have caught two giant squid. Their first, hauled in seven years ago, is on display in New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa.

He said there was so much excitement about his previous catch, he thought he had better save the latest one for research.

"It was partly alive, it was still hanging onto the fish," he recalled. "Just a big bulk in the water. They're huge, and the mantle's all filled with water. It's quite an awesome sight."

Susan Waugh, a senior curator at Te Papa, said scientists hope to find out more about where the creature fits in the food chain, how much genetic variation there is among different squid types, and basic facts about how the colossal squid lives and dies.

She said scientists plan to further assess the condition of the squid before deciding whether to preserve it for public display.

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