How to Ship a Giant Squid Across the World


In 1998, American Museum of Natural History curator Neil Landman put out some feelers in search of a giant squid. As the Curator-in-Charge in the Division of Paleontology, Landman primarily studies ancient organisms, but he’s also interested in modern family members like the elusive cephalopod.

Within a year or so, Landman got a call he’d been hoping for—fishermen off the coast of New Zealand had captured one of the big creatures of the deep. The curator claimed it before realizing he had a bit of a head-scratcher on his hands: How do you get a 30-foot invertebrate weighing several hundred pounds from one side of the world to the other? For the chance to examine a complete specimen of one of the most enduringly captivating creatures on the planet, logistical hurdles had to be overcome.

The giant squid was frozen solid and shipped from Wellington to Auckland, where it hopped a flight to Los Angeles. It missed its connecting flight to New York, but eventually arrived at JFK. Of course, after all those many miles traveled, one of the biggest issues ended up being at the destination: Customs officials needed paperwork for the delivery. After much ado, they landed on a classification: sushi. A $10 tariff cleared it for customs, after which the giant squid was transported to a refrigerated truck and began the last leg of its 9000 mile journey.

Once it arrived at the museum, the squid was thawed and preserved. It’s now one of the best specimens in the world. Among other insights, mitochondrial DNA analysis from this squid and others informed scientists that giant squid from all over the world are part of a single species—architeuthis dux—which is not what was previously understood.

To see Landman and Mark Siddall (Curator of Invertebrate Zoology) tell the whale of a tale, check out Shelf Life Episode 8: Voyage of the Giant Squid, in the video above.