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Sitka fisherman hauls up giant squid

Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- As Sitka fisherman Kevin Kambak hauled in black cod from the deep ocean southwest of Yakutat last weekend, he was startled to find a hooked halibut rising with a big, brown thing snarled on its back.

''I thought it was an octopus,'' Kambak said. ''Then, I was leaning over the side, and I thought, Oh, this isn't right, there's a 5-foot-long head.' ''

To the fisherman's astonishment, it was a giant squid, one of the most fabulous and least-known creatures in the sea.

The 12-foot-long invertebrate predator from the abyss had snatched the 150-pound halibut during its 2,000-foot ascent on Kambak's line -- and then stubbornly rode dinner to the surface, gnawing on the flatfish all the way up.

''It was the most fascinating thing,'' Kambak said. ''It looked like a stained glass window of a halibut, where the arms and tentacles of the squid were the lead between the panes. Because this squid had totally encapsulated this halibut.''

The squid, which Kambak and deckhand Anthony Sine gaffed, gutted, iced and later sent to the University of Washington in Seattle, drew the attention of squid experts across the country.

More than 2,000 people viewed the squid's carcass Wednesday as it lay on the deck of Kambak's 42-foot Kelsey Dawn, moored at the main dock of Sitka's New Thomsen Harbor.

In Seattle, the squid will be examined by college students in a lab on Monday, followed by a media blitz with TV coverage, said professor Ted Pietsch, curator of the 6 million-specimen fish collection at UW's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

''People are going crazy down here,'' Pietsch said.

Little wonder. The giant squids are rarely found and almost never seen alive. The largest of 10 known species grows up to 60 feet in length and roams to depths of 3,500 feet, where they're preyed upon by diving sperm whales.

This squid is probably a giant Pacific squid, a smaller species that ranges from California to Japan, Pietsch said. Two of them washed ashore in the Aleutian Islands in 2000. The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward dissected one and put the other on display.

Kambak at first wanted to salvage the squid for food. Later he found out that giant squid really aren't edible.

''I fried up a little bit just to check it out,'' he said. ''It was incredibly salty and it had a little bit of aftertaste.''

Unfortunately, gutting the creature dramatically reduced the squid's scientific value, Pietsch said.

''People who come across these, they really ought to save the whole thing,'' he said.

After stowing the squid on ice, Kambak and Sine moved to release the halibut, still on the line in the water. To his surprise, the halibut was alive -- though a bit chewed up from the squid's beak.

''I cut him loose and, my goodness, he was tickled pink to get out of there,'' Kambak said. ''This turned out good for everybody involved, except the squid.''

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Distributed by The Associated Press.



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