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These tentacles are not for a faint embrace

It had cartoonish eyes, a high forehead, and a flushed pink complexion. No, it wasn't a life-size Barney washed up on the icy shore. It was a large squid that biologist Amanda Lynnes spotted on April 1, her last day at an Antarctic post on Signy Island.

In "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," Architeuthis, the giant squid that has eluded scientists and explorers for centuries, curls its tentacles around a submarine, nearly choking the ship until crew members wielding an ax and a harpoon win out. But this squid, a different species altogether, was a defenseless lunch for birds by the time Ms. Lynnes found it.

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With help from colleagues, Lynnes hauled the creature onto a scale, she recalls over the phone from her office in Cambridge, England. At 7 feet and more than 60 pounds, with suckers the size of thumbnails punctuating two of its arms, it's the biggest specimen of kondakovia longimana captured yet.

Little is known about kondakovia, a species found only in the Antarctic. Research is based on indigestible parts, mostly beaks, excavated from the guts of ocean animals. Scientists generally have had to guess at its potential size based on these small findings. "Now, we can relate a real beak to a real size," Lynnes says.

Even with evidence that kondakovia are frequently preyed on, Lynnes says there's still no way of knowing their exact numbers. Population figures for the Architeuthis, long aggrandized in movies and literature, are equally vague. No one has ever seen a healthy, live specimen of either species.

Lynnes, a penguin biologist with the British Antarctic Survey, was especially thrilled to find an eye intact, untouched by the birds. But because of stringent customs rules, she says, the team traveled home with only the squid's beak. "It was too late to contact Britain and bring it back on the ship," Lynnes says. "We just had to give it back to the birds."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society