Marine scientists studying the carcass of a rare colossal squid said Wednesday they had measured its eye at about 11 inches across — bigger than a dinner plate — making it the largest animal eye on Earth.

One of the squid's two eyes, with a lens as big as an orange, was found intact as the scientists examined the creature while it was slowly defrosted at New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa.

It has been preserved there since being caught in the Ross Sea off Antarctica's northern coast last year.

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"This is the only intact eye [of a colossal squid] that's ever been found. It's spectacular," said Auckland University of Technology squid specialist Kat Bolstad, one of a team of international scientists brought in to examine the creature.

"It's the largest known eye in the animal kingdom," Bolstad told The Associated Press.

The squid is the biggest specimen ever caught of the rare and mysterious deep-water species Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, or colossal squid.

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When caught, it measured 26 feet long and weighed about 1,000 pounds, but scientists believe the species may grow as long as 46 feet.

"This is the largest eye ever recorded in history and studied," said Swedish Professor Eric Warrant of the University of Lund, who specializes in vision in invertebrates. "It has a huge lens the size of an orange and captures an awful lot of light in the dark depths in which it hunts."

The squid can descend to 6,500 feet and are known to be aggressive hunters.

Scientists using an endoscope to examine the stomach and other organs said later Wednesday on their blog that the squid was a female.

"We just found the ovaries — the specimen is a girl! The ovaries are full of several thousands of eggs!" the entry said.

Bolstad earlier said that females are believed to grow larger than the male.

Colossal squid are found only in Antarctic waters and are not closely related to the equally mysterious but more slender giant squid, which are found around the world.

Giant squid grow up to 39 feet long, and are not as heavy as colossal squid.